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“Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams for 2020 July 22, 2020

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : COVID, COVID-19, General, Tax Rules, Tax Tip, Taxes, Uncategorized , add a comment

On July 16, 2020, the Internal Revenue Service announced its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams with a special emphasis on aggressive and evolving schemes related to coronavirus tax relief, including Economic Impact Payments.

On July 16, 2020, the Internal Revenue Service announced its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams with a special emphasis on aggressive and evolving schemes related to coronavirus tax relief, including Economic Impact Payments.

This year, the Dirty Dozen focuses on scams that target taxpayers. The criminals behind these bogus schemes view everyone as potentially easy prey. The IRS urges everyone to be on guard all the time and look out for others in their lives.

“According to a cpa tax scams tend to rise during tax season or during times of crisis, and scam artists are using the pandemic to try stealing money and information from honest taxpayers,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “The IRS provides the Dirty Dozen list to help raise awareness about common scams that fraudsters use to target people. We urge people to watch out for these scams. The IRS is doing its part to protect Americans. We will relentlessly pursue criminals trying to steal your money or sensitive personal financial information.”

Taxpayers are encouraged to review the list in the “special section” on IRS.gov and be on the lookout for these scams throughout the year. Taxpayers should also remember that they are legally responsible for what is on their tax return even if it is prepared by someone else. Consumers can help protect themselves by choosing a reputable tax preparer.

The IRS urges taxpayers to refrain from engaging potential scammers online or on the phone. The IRS plans to unveil a similar list of enforcement and compliance priorities this year as well.

An upcoming series of press releases will emphasize the illegal schemes and techniques businesses and individuals use to avoid paying their lawful tax liability. Topics will include such scams as abusive micro captives and fraudulent conservation easements.

Here are this year’s “Dirty Dozen” scams:

Phishing:

Taxpayers should be alert to potential fake emails or websites looking to steal personal information. The IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers via email about a tax bill, refund or Economic Impact Payments. Don’t click on links claiming to be from the IRS. Be wary of emails and websites − they may be nothing more than scams to steal personal information.

IRS Criminal Investigation has seen a tremendous increase in phishing schemes utilizing emails, letters, texts and links. These phishing schemes are using keywords such as “coronavirus,” “COVID-19” and “Stimulus” in various ways.

These schemes are blasted to large numbers of people in an effort to get personal identifying information or financial account information, including account numbers and passwords. Most of these new schemes are actively playing on the fear and unknown of the virus and the stimulus payments. 

Fake Charities:

Criminals frequently exploit natural disasters and other situations such as the current COVID-19 pandemic by setting up fake charities to steal from well-intentioned people trying to help in times of need. Fake charity scams generally rise during times like these.

Fraudulent schemes normally start with unsolicited contact by telephone, text, social media, e-mail or in-person using a variety of tactics. Bogus websites use names similar to legitimate charities to trick people to send money or provide personal financial information. They may even claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds.

According to a great accountant, taxpayers should be particularly wary of charities with names like nationally known organizations. Legitimate charities will provide their Employer Identification Number (EIN), if requested, which can be used to verify their legitimacy. Taxpayers can find legitimate and qualified charities with the search tool on IRS.gov.

Threatening Impersonator Phone Calls:

IRS impersonation scams come in many forms. A common form is bogus, threatening phone calls from a criminal claiming to be with the IRS. The scammer attempts to instill fear and urgency in the potential victim. In fact, the IRS will never threaten a taxpayer or surprise him or her with a demand for immediate payment.

Phone scams or “vishing” (voice phishing) pose a major threat. Scam phone calls, including those threatening arrest, deportation or license revocation if the victim doesn’t pay a bogus tax bill, are reported year-round. These calls often take the form of a “robocall” (a text-to-speech recorded message with instructions for returning the call).

The IRS will never demand immediate payment, threaten, ask for financial information over the phone, or call about an unexpected refund or Economic Impact Payment. Taxpayers should contact the real IRS if they worry about having a tax problem.

Social Media Scams:

Taxpayers need to protect themselves against social media scams, which frequently use events like COVID-19 to try tricking people. Social media enables anyone to share information with anyone else on the internet. Scammers use that information as ammunition for a wide variety of scams. These include emails where scammers impersonate someone’s family, friends or co-workers.

Social media scams have also led to tax-related identity theft. The basic element of social media scams is convincing a potential victim that he or she is dealing with a person close to them that they trust via email, text or social media messaging.

Using personal information, a scammer may email a potential victim and include a link to something of interest to the recipient which contains malware intended to commit more crimes. Scammers also infiltrate their victim’s emails and cell phones to go after their friends and family with fake emails that appear to be real and text messages soliciting, for example, small donations to fake charities that are appealing to the victims.

EIP or Refund Theft:

The IRS has made great strides against refund fraud and theft in recent years, but they remain an ongoing threat. Criminals this year also turned their attention to stealing Economic Impact Payments as provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Much of this stems from identity theft whereby criminals file false tax returns or supply other bogus information to the IRS to divert refunds to wrong addresses or bank accounts.

The IRS recently warned nursing homes and other care facilities that Economic Impact Payments generally belong to the recipients, not the organizations providing the care. This came following concerns that people and businesses may be taking advantage of vulnerable populations who received the payments. These payments do not count as a resource for determining eligibility for Medicaid and other federal programs They also do not count as income in determining eligibility for these programs. See IR-2020-121, IRS alert: Economic Impact Payments belong to recipient, not nursing homes or care facilities for more.

Taxpayers can consult the Coronavirus Tax Relief page of IRS.gov for assistance in getting their EIPs. Anyone who believes they may be a victim of identity theft should consult the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft on IRS.gov.

Senior Fraud:

Senior citizens and those who care about them need to be on alert for tax scams targeting older Americans. The IRS recognizes the pervasiveness of fraud targeting older Americans along with the Department of Justice and FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), among others.

Seniors are more likely to be targeted and victimized by scammers than other segments of society. Financial abuse of seniors is a problem among personal and professional relationships. Anecdotal evidence across professional services indicates that elder fraud goes down substantially when the service provider knows a trusted friend or family member is taking an interest in the senior’s affairs.

Older Americans are becoming more comfortable with evolving technologies, such as social media. Unfortunately, that gives scammers another means of taking advantage. Phishing scams linked to Covid-19 have been a major threat this filing season. Seniors need to be alert for a continuing surge of fake emails, text messages, websites and social media attempts to steal personal information.

Scams targeting non-English speakers:

IRS impersonators and other scammers also target groups with limited English proficiency. These scams are often threatening in nature. Some scams also target those potentially receiving an Economic Impact Payment and request personal or financial information from the taxpayer.

Phone scams pose a major threat to people with limited access to information, including individuals not entirely comfortable with the English language. These calls frequently take the form of a “robocall” (a text-to-speech recorded message with instructions for returning the call), but in some cases may be made by a real person. These con artists may have some of the taxpayer’s information, including their address, the last four digits of their Social Security number or other personal details – making the phone calls seem more legitimate.

A common phone scan is the IRS impersonation scam. This is where a taxpayer receives a telephone call threatening jail time, deportation or revocation of a driver’s license from someone claiming to be with the IRS. Taxpayers who are recent immigrants often are the most vulnerable and should ignore these threats and not engage the scammers.

Unscrupulous Return Preparers:

Selecting the right return preparer is important. They are entrusted with a taxpayer’s sensitive personal data. Most tax professionals provide honest, high-quality service, but dishonest preparers pop up every filing season committing fraud, harming innocent taxpayers or talking taxpayers into doing illegal things they regret later.

Taxpayers should avoid so-called “ghost” preparers who expose their clients to potentially serious filing mistakes as well as possible tax fraud and risk of losing their refunds. With many tax professionals impacted by COVID-19 and their offices potentially closed, taxpayers should take particular care in selecting a credible tax preparer.

Ghost preparers don’t sign the tax returns they prepare. They may print the tax return and tell the taxpayer to sign and mail it to the IRS. For e-filed returns, the ghost preparer will prepare but not digitally sign as the paid preparer. By law, anyone who is paid to prepare or assists in preparing federal tax returns must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Paid preparers must sign and include their PTIN on returns.

Unscrupulous preparers may also target those without a filing requirement and may or may not be due a refund. They promise inflated refunds by claiming fake tax credits, including education credits, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and others. Taxpayers should avoid preparers who ask them to sign a blank return, promise a big refund before looking at the taxpayer’s records or charge fees based on a percentage of the refund.

Offer in Compromise Mills:

Taxpayers need to be wary of misleading tax debt resolution companies that can exaggerate chances to settle tax debts for “pennies on the dollar” through an Offer in Compromise (OIC). These offers are available for taxpayers who meet very specific criteria under law to qualify for reducing their tax bill. But unscrupulous companies oversell the program to unqualified candidates so they can collect a hefty fee from taxpayers already struggling with debt.

These scams are commonly called OIC “mills,” which cast a wide net for taxpayers, charge them pricey fees and churn out applications for a program they’re unlikely to qualify for. Although the OIC program helps thousands of taxpayers each year reduce their tax debt, not everyone qualifies for an OIC. In Fiscal Year 2019, there were 54,000 OICs submitted to the IRS. The agency accepted 18,000 of them.

Individual taxpayers can use the free online Offer in Compromise Pre-Qualifier tool to see if they qualify. The simple tool allows taxpayers to confirm eligibility and provides an estimated offer amount. Taxpayers can apply for an OIC without third-party representation; but the IRS reminds taxpayers that if they need help, they should be cautious about whom they hire.

Fake Payments with Repayment Demands:

Criminals are always finding new ways to trick taxpayers into believing their scam including putting a bogus refund into the taxpayer’s actual bank account. Here’s how the scam works:

A con artist steals or obtains a taxpayer’s personal data including Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) and bank account information. The scammer files a bogus tax return and has the refund deposited into the taxpayer’s checking or savings account. Once the direct deposit hits the taxpayer’s bank account, the fraudster places a call to them, posing as an IRS employee. The taxpayer is told that there’s been an error and that the IRS needs the money returned immediately or penalties and interest will result. The taxpayer is told to buy specific gift cards for the amount of the refund.

The IRS will never demand payment by a specific method. There are many payment options available to taxpayers and there’s also a process through which taxpayers have the right to question the amount of tax the IRS says they owe. Anytime a taxpayer receives an unexpected refund, and a call from the IRS out of the blue demanding a refund repayment, they should reach out to their banking institution and to the IRS.

Payroll and HR Scams:

Tax professionals, employers and taxpayers need to be on guard against phishing designed to steal Form W-2s and other tax information. These are Business Email Compromise (BEC) or Business Email Spoofing (BES). This is particularly true with many businesses closed and their employees working from home due to COVID-19. Currently, two of the most common types of these scams are the gift card scam and the direct deposit scam.

In the gift card scam, a compromised email account is often used to send a request to purchase gift cards in various denominations. In the direct deposit scheme, the fraudster may have access to the victim’s email account (also known as an email account compromise or “EAC”). They may also impersonate the potential victim to have the organization change the employee’s direct deposit information to reroute their deposit to an account the fraudster controls.

BEC/BES scams have used a variety of ploys to include requests for wire transfers, payment of fake invoices as well as others. In recent years, the IRS has observed variations of these scams where fake IRS documents are used in to lend legitimacy to the bogus request. For example, a fraudster may attempt a fake invoice scheme and use what appears to be a legitimate IRS document to help convince the victim.

The Direct Deposit and other BEC/BES variations should be forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) where a complaint can be filed. The IRS requests that Form W-2 scams be reported to: phishing@irs.gov  (Subject: W-2 Scam).

Ransomware:

This is a growing cybercrime. Ransomware is malware targeting human and technical weaknesses to infect a potential victim’s computer, network or server. Malware is a form of invasive software that is often frequently inadvertently downloaded by the user. Once downloaded, it tracks keystrokes and other computer activity. Once infected, ransomware looks for and locks critical or sensitive data with its own encryption. In some cases, entire computer networks can be adversely impacted.

Victims generally aren’t aware of the attack until they try to access their data, or they receive a ransom request in the form of a pop-up window. These criminals don’t want to be traced so they frequently use anonymous messaging platforms and demand payment in virtual currency such as Bitcoin.

Cybercriminals might use a phishing email to trick a potential victim into opening a link or attachment containing the ransomware. These may include email solicitations to support a fake COVID-19 charity. Cybercriminals also look for system vulnerabilities where human error is not needed to deliver their malware.

The IRS and its Security Summit partners have advised tax professionals and taxpayers to use the free, multi-factor authentication feature being offered on tax preparation software products. Use of the multi-factor authentication feature is a free and easy way to protect clients and practitioners’ offices from data thefts. Tax software providers also offer free multi-factor authentication protections on their Do-It-Yourself products for taxpayers.

This week’s article – From IRS.gov – Click Here

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.

– Tammy

– until next week.

Your Age-by-Age Checklist to Prepare for Retirement Conversations June 24, 2020

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : General, Retirement, Tax Tip, Taxes , add a comment

June 24, 2020

The question isn’t at what age I want to retire, it’s at what income.                      -George Foreman

Never have times been so interesting. Never has change occurred so fast.  We all know that time moves faster as we grow older.  However, it may not make sense to bend over backwards in an effort to fund your retirement at a young age.  But neither may it be ignored completely either.  
                           -Mark Bradstreet

What should you and your loved ones be doing to prepare for a retirement when and how you want? While the answer partially depends on whether your own personal finish line is just around the corner or decades away, there’s one thing that everyone should be doing, no matter your age: talking.

It’s important to have conversations about retirement planning early and often, but not everyone knows what to talk about or how to get started. These age-based guidelines can serve as discussion points with your loved ones to make sure you’re on track for the retirement you want.

Preparing for retirement in your 30’s

• Don’t let student loans prevent you from saving for retirement. It’s usually a mistake to think that student loan debt should be fully paid off before putting aside money for retirement. Your retirement savings need time to grow so you can achieve your goals, and investing early will pay off in the long run — even if you can’t save as much as you’d like.  The right balance will likely include payments toward both goals, with the exact amounts depending on factors like interest rates and expected returns. 

• Make sure you’re maxing out your company’s 401(k) matching contributions. Employers often match up to a certain amount of your contributions; it’s essentially free money that you could be taking advantage of! 

• Don’t leave your job without taking vesting into consideration. Many companies tie their retirement contributions to a requirement that you stay with the company for a minimum amount of time, known as the vesting period. If you leave before the allotted period of time, be aware of the financial repercussions. 

• Revisit your 401(k) contributions each time you get a raise or promotion. If you’ve set up automatic contributions, it’s important that you don’t fall into the trap of sticking to those levels indefinitely.

• Understand the power of compounding returns. The earlier you begin investing, the more time your money will have to grow. Don’t delay. 

Preparing for your retirement in your 40’s

• Prioritize paying down your high-interest debt. Whether you have credit card debt, a car loan or a home mortgage, paying interest can eat away at your ability to save money for retirement. Prioritize your highest interest debt first and work your way down until you’re debt free. 

• Don’t fall behind. Your 40’s can be a stressful time financially. Many people in today’s “sandwich generation” are squeezed by the needs of children getting ready for college and elderly parents with dwindling reserves. Try to at least keep pace with your previous level of retirement savings. 

• Start running the numbers. Making some quick calculations can help show you where different savings scenarios are likely to lead you. If you’re not sure where to start, try Lincoln Financial’s retirement calculators.

• Talk to a financial advisor to make sure you’re on the right track. “Meeting with a financial advisor can help alleviate some of the stress surrounding retirement by helping savers create a plan,” said Jamie Ohl, Executive Vice President, President, Retirement Plan Services, Lincoln Financial Group. “People who have a plan are more confident and better prepared for retirement.”

Preparing for retirement in your 50’s

• Don’t let your spending get out of control. People often find that their disposable income increases in their 50’s as they become empty nesters and their salaries peak. Instead of letting your spending increase in tandem, increase the amount of money you put into your retirement accounts and practice frugality — getting accustomed to a more luxurious lifestyle can make it more difficult to retire.

• Ask your employer about catch-up contributions. Most companies allow workers who are age 50 and above to contribute an extra $6,000 annually to their 401(k) on top of the regular contribution limits. 

• Don’t count on an “average” lifespan. “People are living longer than ever before, and they may not factor that into their retirement planning,” said Will Fuller, Executive Vice President, President, Annuities, Lincoln Financial Distributors and Lincoln Financial Network. “That makes outliving your savings a real concern for the millions of households in America that do not have any kind of income protection in place.”

• Consider purchasing an annuity to protect against uncertainty. Annuities provide you with a guaranteed income for life, safeguarding you against longevity risk and stock market risk. 

• Get your financial advisor to align with your expected retirement age. You may have an ideal retirement age in mind, but your financial advisor is best situated to help you determine whether it’s realistic and what you need to do to get there. 

Tips like these will make sure that you’re heading in the right direction, but there’s no substitute for talking through your own personal circumstances with a financial advisor every step of the way. You’re never too young or too old to get help from a professional — and if you’ve already followed the steps above, it will be easy for them to take you across the finish line.

Today’s author – Mark Bradstreet

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.

IRS Faces Next Challenge: Reopening June 17, 2020

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : General, Taxes , add a comment

June 17, 2020

    WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service cranked out $267 billion in stimulus payments in about two months, faster than many analysts expected. But challenging work lies ahead, such as opening 10 million pieces of piled-up mail and resuming a semblance of normal taxpayer service.                

    The agency, already struggling with budget cuts and reduced staff before the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, was given the monumental task of sending stimulus payments worth $1,200 for most adults and $500 per child to help Americans ride out the economic slump. Despite some hitches—like payments to dead people and debit-card envelopes that looked to some like junk mail—those payments are largely complete, the government said this week. “The IRS has taken on nearly impossible challenges and performed many of them very well,” said Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee.

    Now the agency is trying to slowly reopen dozens of offices around the country and recall thousands of workers as the July 15 tax filing deadline approaches.“It gets tougher from here,” said Mark Everson, a former IRS commissioner.

    Some major operations centers remain closed, and open ones aren’t running at full strength. Refunds are being processed more slowly than usual, agency data indicate. Some telephone assistance is available, but IRS officials say phone lines remain unusually busy and they are directing people to the agency’s website whenever possible. Catching up will take time.

    “If you mailed us something, especially in February, it’s gonna be a while,” said Chad Hooper, an IRS worker in Philadelphia and president of the Professional Managers Association, which represents the agency’s supervisors.

    Meanwhile, the regular tax filing season continues, postponed from the usual April 15 deadline to July 15 as part of the coronavirus relief effort. As of May 29, the IRS had received 6.5% fewer returns than it did last year and processed 13% percent fewer. That suggests many people are waiting longer than usual for refunds. Sometimes the agency’s automated filters block refunds for suspected fraud, requiring a person to check before payments are made, even on electronically filed returns that normally yield fast refunds.

    Michael Whiteley, an unemployed chef in Rochester, N.H., said he filed his tax return in March, expecting a refund of more than $4,000. Instead, he got a notice from the IRS requesting documentation to prove that his son with a different last name was his own. Mr. Whiteley, who had already spent about $500 at H&R Block for tax preparation, said he spent $40 on expedited mail delivery to send follow-up documentation to the IRS in Fresno, Calif.—an office that isn’t set to reopen until the end of June. “I’m still sitting here to this day, waiting,” he said.

    Getting back to normal will be tricky. More than half of agency employees have been working remotely, according to the House Ways and Means Committee. But about 30% have been on paid leave because of the pandemic, and those who staff phone lines generally can’t work from home. The IRS had been trying to make more employees eligible for remote work but didn’t finish doing so before the pandemic started, Mr. Hooper said.

    “Having more modern systems would have been a great thing to have prepared for prior to a thing like this,” said Andrew Moylan, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, a nonprofit research group affiliated with a conservative organization. “Expect less timeliness, less ability to contact people, less ability to get your questions answered, more problems that people have to sort out.”

    Reopening will be uneven for an agency with offices scattered across the country. Major offices in Utah, Texas and Kentucky reopened this week for employees who can’t work from home. Next come eight states and Puerto Rico, including campuses in Atlanta and Fresno, and that phase could bring back as many as 12,500 workers who aren’t eligible to work remotely. Offices in places with tighter restrictions—including Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., New York and Maryland—aren’t yet scheduled to reopen.

    Different campuses do different types of work. Many employees have very specialized skills handling certain types of tax returns, creating a complicated management challenge to restore full service. “This is not a McDonald’s where you can move a person from the register to the to-go window,” said Mr. Everson, now vice chairman of Alliantgroup LP.

  The IRS hasn’t restarted services that require face-to-face meetings with the public, such as taxpayer assistance centers and some audit and collections operations. That is a safety concern for taxpayers and the government. Years of hiring freezes and the security of public-sector jobs mean the IRS has an aging workforce that is more susceptible to Covid-19. Employees remain anxious about the risks posed by taking public transportation, being in enclosed facilities with hundreds of co-workers and whether their work stations will be consistently and properly cleaned and disinfected,” said Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents front-line IRS workers.

    IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, in a memo to employees, said their health and safety was the agency’s priority. In a statement to The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Rettig said employees worked around the clock in challenging circumstances to provide more than 159 million payments. “As we continue a phased-in reopening, we will do everything possible to accelerate our operations and enhance taxpayer services and processing of refunds,” he said.

    There are other challenges. In March, the IRS announced its “People First Initiative,” suspending some enforcement and collection through July 15 to help taxpayers struggling with unemployment and disruption. At some point, the agency will shift back toward enforcement.

    When will that happen? “It’s going to be a judgment call,” said Diana Erbsen, a lawyer at DLA Piper in New York who is chairwoman of the agency’s advisory council. “It’s not going to be an on-off switch.”

This week’s Author – Mark Bradstreet

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

Tax Tip of the Week | America’s Richest 400 Families Now Pay a Lower Tax Rate Than the Middle Class March 11, 2020

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : 2019 Taxes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Tip, Taxes, Uncategorized , add a comment

March 11, 2020

Good or bad?  Only time will tell.
       -Mark Bradstreet

The U.S. tax system is supposed to be progressive, meaning that wealthier households pay a larger share of their income to the taxman than the middle class and the poor. Yet after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, that’s no longer the case: For the first time in a century, America’s 400 richest families now pay lower taxes than people in the middle class. 

That’s according to an analysis of tax data by two prominent economists, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman of the University of California at Berkeley, that is a centerpiece of their book, “The Triumph of Injustice,” published on October 15, 2019. Saez and Zucman, who have worked with the noted French economist Thomas Piketty to produce seminal research on inequality, also advised Senator Elizabeth Warren on the Democratic presidential candidate’s plan to impose a wealth tax on ultra-rich families. 

The tipping point came last year when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump at the end of 2017, took effect. While Mr. Trump vowed that middle-class families would be helped by the tax overhaul, experts say most working-class families saw only a minimal benefit, while the wealthiest citizens got the lion’s share of breaks. In fact, Saez and Zucman argue, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act turned the tax system on its head.

“In 2018, for the first time in the last hundred years, the top 400 richest Americans have paid lower tax rates than the working class,” they write. “This looks like the tax system of a plutocracy.”

Factoring in all federal, state and local taxes, those ultra-wealthy households pay a total rate of about 23% — that compares with 24.2% for the bottom half of households, which includes many in the middle class. The richest families also pay a lower rate than those in the upper middle class and even those in the top 1%, who pay closer to 30% of their income in taxes.

Why do the super-rich pay lower taxes?

Zucman and Saez, who base their analysis on income tax returns, tax audits and other data, argue that in recent decades the tax system has tilted in favor of the highest earners, with the most recent push coming from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. 

“In 1970, the richest Americans paid, all taxes included, more than 50% of their income in taxes, twice as much as working-class individuals,” the book notes. “In 2018, following the Trump tax reform, and for the first time in the last hundred years, billionaires have paid less than steel workers, schoolteachers and retirees.” 

Today, the tax rates enjoyed by the richest Americans are at levels last seen in the early part of the 20th century, when the U.S. government was a fraction of its current size. In 1910, many popular programs credited with keeping millions of Americans out of poverty didn’t exist, including Social Security and Medicare. 

The rich pay lower tax rates than the middle class because most of their income doesn’t come from wages, unlike most workers. Instead, the bulk of billionaires’ income stems from capital, such as investments like stocks and bonds, which enjoy a lower tax rate than income. It’s the same reason why Warren Buffett famously said his tax rate was lower than his secretary’s.

The 2017 tax law amplified that trend, according to the new analysis. The tax rate for corporations was slashed to 21% from from 35%. And business income for many taxpayers now enjoys a 20% deduction, thanks to the new tax code, which places more income out of the IRS’ reach.

“The only category of income that does not benefit from any exemption, deduction, reduced rate or any other favor is wages,” Zucman and Saez write. “At any income level, wage earners are thus more heavily taxed than people who derive income from property.”

In effect, they add, capital income “is becoming tax-free.”

Why it matters

Although advocates of low taxes argue that slashing rates on the rich and corporations boosts economic growth, there’s little evidence for that. Instead, the U.S. is facing a number of risks by shifting to a more regressive tax system, the authors say.

For one, the federal government is losing out on a massive amount of tax revenue by slashing levies on the rich. Secondly, that lost revenue must be found elsewhere, which means the middle class and poor are likely to be stuck footing the bill. 

But the most important reason, according to Zucman and Saez, is that the U.S. tax system is creating what they call an “inequality spiral.” In other words, the rich are getting richer — that allows them to shape public policies to extract further tax breaks and other benefits, boosting their wealth and political clout.

Of course, tax codes can change, which means the U.S. isn’t doomed to sink more deeply into the quagmire of inequality, Zucman and Saez write. For instance, the economists propose a new national income tax that would tax all income — whether from labor, capital or other sources — as a supplement to the existing income tax. They also favor a wealth tax.

The latter, similar to proposals from both Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders, would tax annual wealth at 2% for those above $50 million and 3.5% above $1 billion. 

“A wealth tax will never replace the income tax,” they note. “Its goal is more limited: to ensure that the ultra-wealthy do not pay less than the rest of the population.”

Credit given to – Aimee Picchi

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.  

Today’s author – Mark Bradstreet

–until next week.

Unraveling Conflicting Tax Rules for Active vs. Passive Income February 26, 2020

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : 2019 Taxes, Business consulting, General, Tax Rules, Tax Tip, Taxes, Taxes, Uncategorized , add a comment

February 26, 2020

Few topics in the office cause more arguments than the tax definition of active versus passive.  The answer affects your income taxes vastly more than one would ever guess.  And, not in just one area of tax but often involving a multitude of seemingly unrelated areas.  At times, both parties in our office scuffles will have written evidence to support each of their opposing views.  Taxes have many shades of gray.

                            -Mark Bradstreet

It is commonly accepted wisdom that tax rules are complicated. This belief is well supported by the conflicting tax rules that apply to business owners, depending on their participation in the business. Let me try to make some sense of these conflicting rules.

Overview

Business owners may be active in their business. This means they are hands-on and are involved in day-to-day activities. Other business owners may be mere investors, adding their capital but not their labor. The following are various rules that take into account whether owners do or do not work in their businesses.

Qualified business income deduction

The 20% deduction for qualified business income (QBI) applies to owners of pass-through entities. There is no requirement that they do or do not participate in the daily operations of the business in order to claim this personal deduction based on their share of business income. If they participate (e.g., they are an S corporation shareholder who receives a salary), this factors into the QBI determination. For example, salary to an S corporation shareholder is not an item allowed in determining QBI, but the salary does count as wages for purposes of W-2 wages used in the formula for the QBI deduction.

Net investment income deduction

The 3.8% net investment income (NII) tax depends entirely on an owner’s participation in the business. Only income from a business in which the taxpayer does not materially participate is treated as investment income and potentially subject to the NII tax. The determination of material participation is made using the passive activity loss rules (below).

Passive activity loss rules

Under the passive activity loss rules, losses from a business activity in which an owner does not materially participate, and has no passive income, are not currently deductible (sorry for the double negative but it’s the best way to explain this limitation). Suspended losses can be carried forward and used to offset passive activity income in the future.

The determination of whether an owner is passive or active is based on 7 tests. An owner is treated as materially participating (i.e., active) and is exempt from the passive activity loss rules if he or she meets any of these tests:

1.    The owner participated in the activity for more than 500 hours.
2.    The owner’s participation was substantially all the participation in the activity of all individuals for the tax year, including the participation of individuals who didn’t own any interest in the activity.
3.    The owner participated in the activity for more than 100 hours during the tax year, and he or she participated at least as much as any other individual (including individuals who didn’t own any interest in the activity) for the year.
4.    The activity is a significant participation activity, and the owner participated in all significant participation activities for more than 500 hours (i.e., participation for more than 100 hours during the year and in which the owner didn’t materially participate under any of the material participation tests).
5.    The owner materially participated in the activity (other than by meeting this fifth test) for any 5 (whether or not consecutive) of the 10 immediately preceding tax years.
6.    The activity is a personal service activity in which you materially participated for any 3 (whether or not consecutive) preceding tax years. An activity is a personal service activity if it involves the performance of personal services in the fields of health (including veterinary services), law, engineering, architecture, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, or any other trade or business in which capital isn’t a material income-producing factor.
7.    Based on all the facts and circumstances, the owner participated in the activity on a regular, continuous, and substantial basis during the year.

Note: When it comes to rental real estate activities and the passive activity loss rules, an owner’s participation doesn’t entitle him or her to claim losses. Owners of rental real estate activities can escape the passive activity loss rules only by demonstrating that they are real estate professionals (part of the definition of a real estate professional is based on material participation).

Self-employment tax

Sole proprietors pay self-employment tax on their net self-employment income. This is so whether they run their business or are totally in the background, relying on a full-time manager to handle the business.

General partners are subject to self-employment tax on their distributive share of self-employment income, plus any guaranteed payments. In contrast, limited partners are exempt from self-employment tax (other than for any guaranteed payments they receive for personal services rendered for the partnership).

Members in limited liability companies may or may not be subject to self-employment tax. There is no firm IRS guidance on this matter. However, tax professionals have argued that where members are mere investors (i.e., they act like limited partners), they should be treated like limited partners who are exempt from self-employment tax on their distributive shares.

Bottom line

Whether you sweat each day in your endeavors or are an investor who watches the books determines the tax rules that apply to you. Discuss your status with your CPA or other tax advisor.

Credit given to:Barbara Weltman

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.  

Today’s author – Mark Bradstreet

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | How is Hobby Income Taxed? February 12, 2020

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : 2019 Taxes, General, tax changes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Preparation, Tax Tip, Taxes, Taxes , add a comment

February 12, 2020

The hobby world has been turned upside down. In the past, hobby expenses were deducted to the extent of hobby income. Starting with 2019 and moving forward, hobby expenses are no longer deductible but your hobby income is fully taxable. Why? I have no idea. Hobbyists should be making whatever efforts necessary to convert their hobby to a business. Unlike hobby expenses, business expenses are deductible.  

                                -Mark Bradstreet

If you earn money from a hobby, you must report it as income on your federal income tax return. But if your hobby turns into a business, you may be eligible to take business deductions as well.

If you’re like most people, you probably have at least one hobby.

Unless your hobby’s mining for cryptocurrencies, you may not profit much from it. But you could still have at least a little hobby income coming in. If you do, you’re probably wondering: How is hobby income taxed?

The answer: You must pay taxes on any money your hobby makes, even if it’s just a few dollars. The good news is, if you incurred hobby expenses, you might be able to deduct them. It’s important to know how to declare hobby income, how to deduct hobby expenses and how to know if your hobby’s a business. You can find out about the rules right here.

Is it a hobby, or is it a business?

First things first — are you pursuing a hobby or running a business? Generally, if you’re doing something with the intention of making a profit, that’s a business, according to the IRS. A hobby is something you do for sport or recreation, and not for the objective of making a profit.

Some additional factors the IRS considers when defining a hobby versus a business include:

•    Do you depend on the income from your hobby?
•    Do you conduct your hobby like a business, maintaining meticulous records?
•    Have you taken steps to make your hobby more profitable?
•    Do you (or anyone who’s advising you) have the knowledge you would need to conduct your hobby as an actual business?
•    Can you expect to turn a profit from appreciation of assets you use in your hobby?

Maybe you answered “no” to all of the questions above. Sometimes, however, your hobby isn’t just for fun and you decide to try to make a living doing what you love. If your hobby becomes a business in the eyes of the IRS, the rules change. Check out the IRS Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center if you find that your hobby has turned into a business.

You must declare hobby income

The IRS wants you to declare all your hobby income, even if it’s a small amount of money.

“If your hobby or side business has a net profit, you have to pay income taxes on that net profit, even with the new tax law,” says Irene Wachsler, a CPA at Tobolsky & Wachsler CPAs LLC in Canton, Massachusetts.

If you file your taxes using Form 1040, you’ll typically report your hobby income on Line 21, labeled “Other income.” While this is the simplest approach for most situations, there’s an alternative if you’re a collector.

If your hobby income comes from selling collectibles at a profit, you may report income from sales, including stock sales, on Schedule D. Reporting profits on a Schedule D means you could be taxed at capital gains rates instead of ordinary income tax rates.

Hobby expenses

Most hobbies — even those that earn you income — also cost money. Prior to the 2018 tax year, you could deduct hobby expenses equal to your hobby income. For tax years after 2018, this deduction is no longer available.

Since tax reform has significantly increased the standard deduction for 2018, you may be thinking you’ll likely lose the ability to deduct hobby expenses if it no longer makes sense for you to itemize. In fact, it doesn’t matter whether you do or don’t itemize — you’ve lost the deduction for hobby expenses in 2018 anyway because tax reform removed the miscellaneous deduction.

“Under the new tax reform bill, there is no place to deduct the expenses, so income will be recognized but the expense will not, starting in 2018,” says Alan Pinck, an enrolled agent and founder of A. Pinck & Associates, San Jose, California.

When does your hobby become a business, and why does it matter?

If your hobby becomes a business, you’re subject to a whole different set of tax rules.

First, you’ll typically have to declare income on Schedule C and pay both income tax and self-employment taxes (self-employment taxes include taxes for Social Security and Medicare, which an employer normally pays half of when you earn wage income). You can also deduct losses from a business, even if those losses exceed income the business earns, which differs from hobby losses.

It may seem tempting to classify your hobby as a business so you can deduct all your expenses, but proceed with caution — as mentioned earlier, the IRS uses specific criteria to differentiate a hobby from a business.

“If the activity makes a profit during at least three out of the last five years, the IRS will generally consider it a business,” Pinck explains, noting that the rules change if horses are involved.

Still, if you decide you do want to turn your hobby into a business and reap the tax benefits of business deductions, Wachsler recommends you keep a log showing your attempts to participate materially in the business.

Your log could include details on your efforts, including advertising, meetings, trying to obtain income or sell services, mileage logs and work logs. Of course even if you make an effort, the IRS may still decide your “business” isn’t really a business at all if you suffer persistent losses year after year.

Bottom line

Now that you know how hobby income is taxed, it’s up to you to decide if making money doing something for fun is worth the potential tax ramifications. While declaring income earned from your hobby may seem like a hassle — especially since you can’t deduct expenses after 2017 — you don’t want to get in trouble with the IRS for not reporting all your income.

Be sure to follow the rules for paying taxes on any money your hobby earns, and be sure you understand the differences between a hobby and a business. If the IRS decides you incorrectly classified your hobby as a business or vice versa, you could face additional taxes, penalties and interest.

Credit Given to: Christy Rakoczy Bieber

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.  

Today’s author – Mark Bradstreet

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | 12 Essential Pieces of Small Business Advice January 22, 2020

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

Seems like a great time to reflect on some business pointers from some very wise people. Always fun to ponder on where we have been, where we are, where we are going, how will we get there and who will be on the bus with us. Rarely, do I get out of the pounding surf long enough to think through these questions. Regardless, this line of thinking should drive the events of 2020 and beyond.

Some brief gems of business advice follow – just maybe one of them will open a new door for you and your company.

                                -Mark Bradstreet 

At Dreamforce 2018, the Salesforce small business team asked attendees to share their most essential advice for small business owners. Over the course of four days, we collected more than 1,000 pearls of wisdom.

To celebrate National Small Business Week, we’ve distilled those 1,000+ suggestions down to 12 bits of small biz advice. And for fun, we’ve included some runner-ups that expressed similar ideas in different words.

Here we go:

1. “Every journey starts with one step – make sure you have the right shoes to go far.”

Launching a small business involves many important decisions, both big and small. The choices you make today can affect your business for years to come, so it’s critical to get off to a strong start and put your business on the path to success.

Runner-ups:

2. “Don’t boil the ocean — think small and fast.” 

Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by complexity or paralyzed by the quest for perfection — keep things simple when and where you can.

Runner-ups:

3. “Trust your instinct — you may just know the next industry trend!”

Running a small business is daunting, but you’ve got this. You’re the captain of the ship, so trust yourself to steer the right course.

Runner-up:

4. “Dream big, but remember to scale for the future. Planning is your best tool to ensure continued success!”

It’s great to have a vision of where you want your company to go. But it’s even more important to plan ahead so that the decisions you make today don’t box you in tomorrow.

Runner-ups:

5. “Be open to the journey without being too rigid on the outcome.” 

Running a small business is an unpredictable adventure. Flexibility is one of the entrepreneur’s best tools for overcoming unexpected adversity.

Runner-ups:

6. “One great employee is better than 10 bad employees.”

Employees are your biggest asset. Hiring (and then listening to and trusting) the right people is one of the most important steps to success.

Runner-ups:

7. “Listen. Listen. Listen. You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that ratio.”

Details (and good communication) matter.

Runner-ups:

8. “Know your numbers, but know your customers better!”

Customers are the lifeblood of any business, but especially for small businesses. Treating them right and giving them a reason to come back is critical.

Runner-ups:

9. “Whether you think it’s possible or not, you are right!”

Elvis sang it best – “Only the strong survive.” When the going gets tough, successful small business entrepreneurs get going.

Runner-ups:

10. “Work for a company you’re proud of.”

Once you’ve hired great employees you need to treat them right so they stick around. The churn and expense of replacing good workers can debilitate even the strongest small business.

Runner-ups:

11. “Do what you say you’ll do!”

What does your company stand for? If it doesn’t stand for much it likely won’t be around for long.

Runner-ups:

12. “You have one life. What is important to you?”

There’s only one you! It’s impossible to create and run a successful company if you aren’t functioning at 100%. Be good to yourself, so that you’re around to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Runner-ups:

Many thanks to our great Dreamforce attendees for taking the time to pass along so many thoughtful and helpful suggestions.

Credit Given to:  Daniel Krewson. 

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 | Great News from the IRS for Retirement Savers January 15, 2020

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

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) gave retirement savers an early holiday gift this year in the form of higher contribution limits for 2020. According to its November 6th announcement, workplace retirement plan contribution limits would be increased in 2020. Likewise, the income limits for Traditional IRAs and ROTH IRAs will also rise in 2020.

Larger contributions to retirement accounts will allow you to further minimize your current tax bills. Additionally, higher retirement account contribution limits can be great for those who are playing catch up for retirement and/or who are making good incomes.

2020 Contribution Limits for Workplace Retirement Plans

The employee contribution limit will be increasing from $19,000 to $19,500 for the following types of retirement accounts in 2020:
•    401(k) plans
•    403(b) plans
•    Most 457 plans
•    Thrift Savings Plans
•    Profit-Sharing Plans
•    Cash Balance Pension Plans

For those of you with a SIMPLE IRA at work, the contribution limit will be increasing from $13,000 to $13,500. If your employer offers a SIMPLE IRA it may be time to ask them to upgrade your retirement plan to a 401(k), or something similar, that offers larger contribution limits.

Larger Catch-Up Contributions for Workers Who are 50+

Workers, at least 50 years old, are allowed to contribute even more to workplace retirement accounts. In 2019, the maximum catch-up contribution to a 401(k) was $6,000. For 2020, that amount will increase to $6,500.

That means workers who are at least 50-years-old will be allowed to contribute a combined total of $1,000 more than they could have in 2019. For example, a worker who is 55 years old in 2020, with a workplace retirement plan, will be able to contribute up to $19,500 to his 401(k) plus a maximum catch-up contribution of $6,500. If he makes the maximum contributions, they will equate to an investment of $26,000 into his retirement account. That’s $1,000 more than the maximum amount he could have invested in 2019.

Catch-Up Contributions are Typically Allowed on the Following Retirement Plans
•    401(k)
•    403(b)
•    Most 457 plans
•    Thrift Savings Plan

Sadly, catch-up contributions are not allowed on SEP IRAs.

Solo 401(k) Contribution Limits for 2020

With a Solo 401(k), small business owners can contribute as both the employee and the employer. That could lead to some pretty nice tax savings for those who max out the plans. As the employee, you can contribute the aforementioned $19,500 for 2020, plus the catch-up contribution if you are at least 50 years old. Total contribution limits as both the employee and employer have increased by $1,000 to $57,000 for 2020. That number does not include the potential $6,500 catch-up contribution. That means small business owners who are at least 50 years old have the option to contribute the maximum contribution limit of $65,500 for a Solo 401(k) plan.

Defined Benefit Pension Plan Benefits Increase In 2020

Small business owners who are maxing out their 401(k) or profit-sharing plan, and who want to save more on taxes, should check out a Cash Balance Pension. This defined benefit plan will allow even larger pre-tax retirement plan contributions when combined with a 401(k) profit-sharing plan. 

Effective January 1, 2020, the limitation on the annual benefit of a Pension plan will be increasing from $225,000 to $230,000. While this may not seem like a big deal, it will allow for a larger contribution, each year, to the pension plan. Your potential contributions will depend on how the plan is designed, your age, and your income. I work with many business owners who are stashing away hundreds of thousands of dollars each, pre-tax, into a Defined Benefit Pension Plan every year.

No Increase to IRA Contribution Limits

Bad news plus some good news for IRA or ROTH IRA lovers. The maximum contribution limits for individual retirement accounts are remaining the same. Also remaining the same are catch-up contributions for individual retirement accounts. For 2020, the catch-up contribution will be just $1,000 for an IRA and ROTH IRA. It should be noted that cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for IRAs are not indexed to inflation. 

The good news is that the income limits to fully contribute to a ROTH IRA, or to fully deduct contributions to a Traditional IRA, have increased for 2020.

The income limits for both types of IRAs, ROTH or Traditional, will vary depending on your federal income tax-filing status and, of course, your income. For specifics, check out the IRS announcement. Knowing those thresholds will help making the choice of going with a ROTH IRA or Traditional IRA easier.

What Should You Do Now?

Whether you are maxing out your contributions, or not, take them up a notch for 2020. If you already maximize your tax-saving by contributing the maximum amount allowed for your retirement plan, adjust your contributions in 2020 so that you stay at the maximum. 

If you are unsure about your investment choices or about how much to save for retirement, talk with an independent fee-only financial planner who can help make the process smoother and easier for you. While it is never too late to improve your retirement outlook, the more you procrastinate, the harder it will be to reach financial freedom.

Credit given to: David Rae, a Certified Financial Planner and Accredited Investment Fiduciary. This article was published by Forbes on Nov 20, 2019.

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.

Tax Tip of the Week | Rental Property Deduction Checklist for Landlords January 8, 2020

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : Business Consulting, Deductions, Depreciation options, General, tax changes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Preparation, Tax Tip, Taxes , 1 comment so far

A business tax deduction is typically of more value than a personal tax deduction. Personal tax deductions are commonly in the form of itemized deductions. These may be of no value though if the standard deduction exceeds the so-called long form (itemized) deductions.

The following article by G. Brian Davis discusses business tax deductions specific to rentals. As an addition to his article, I will add that rental losses, if deductible on your federal income tax return, are also deductible on the State of Ohio and School District income tax returns. Within income limitations, rental income is not taxed to Ohio but is taxed by municipalities and school districts.

One lofty goal in the tax world is converting what otherwise was a nondeductible personal expense into a tax deduction. The world of rentals provides such opportunities.

                                            -Mark Bradstreet

The billionaires of the world are not doctors or lawyers, they’re entrepreneurs. Specifically, they are people who started their own businesses, whether those businesses are online, brick and mortar, or real estate empires.

Starting and owning a business provides a long list of tax advantages, and real estate investments provide all the usual tax advantages plus some extras unique to real property. Every expense associated with rental properties – plus some just-on-paper expenses – are tax deductible.

However, tax laws change fast and that means it is imperative for all those who invest in real estate must educate themselves. So, before you jump into the rental property deductions checklist, make sure you’re up to speed on how the new tax law affects landlords’ tax returns.

The changes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) impacted homeowners, real estate investors and landlords alike. Here’s an outline of what you need to know as a real estate owner, and when in doubt, hire a professional who knows accounting with a real estate investing focus. Ideally one who invests in real estate themselves.

Lower Income Tax Rates

From 2018 through 2025, rental property investors will benefit from generally lower income tax rates and other favorable changes to the tax brackets. The TCJA retains seven tax rate brackets, although six of the brackets’ rates are lower than before. In addition, the new tax law retains the existing tax rates for long-term capital gains.

No Self-Employment Taxes for Landlords

In many ways, landlords get the best of both worlds: the tax benefits of owning a business, without the downside of self-employment taxes.

Real estate flippers can sometimes fall under the “dealer” category, and find themselves subject to double FICA taxes. FICA taxes fund Social Security and Medicare, and cost both employees and employers 7.65% of all income paid. Self-employed people end up having to pay both sides of FICA taxes, at 15.3% of total income.

But the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 ended up leaving landlords and their rental income free from any FICA taxes.

New Passive Income Loss Rule

If you have losses from “passive activities” such as owning rental properties, typically you can only deduct those losses to offset other passive income sources, such as other rental properties. For example, if you earn $10,000 from one rental property and have an $8,000 loss on another, you can offset your $10,000 income with the $8,000 loss, for a net taxable rental income of $2,000.

But if you have a net loss, that can’t be used as a deduction against your active income from your 9-5 job. You can carry it forward however, to offset future passive income earnings and rents.

Here’s how the TCJA changes matters: there’s a new $250,000 cap for single filers, $500,000 cap for married filers, for passive losses. Any passive losses that you’re allowed, in excess of those caps, must be carried forward to the next tax year.

It won’t affect most landlords, but it’s something to be aware of.

20 Tax Deductions for Landlords

Here are 20 rental property expenses you can deduct on your tax return, to keep more of your money in your pocket where it belongs. It’s not 100% exhaustive, as there are a few obscure tax deductions that only apply to a few landlords, but think of this as a rental property deductions checklist for the average landlord.

IMPORTANT: These rental property tax deductions are “above the line” deductions, meaning they come directly off your taxable income for rental properties. That means you can deduct these expenses, and still take the standard deduction.

1. Losses from Theft or Casualty
The TCJA suspended the itemized deduction for personal casualty and theft losses for 2018 through 2025. Before 2018 deductions of this kind were permitted when they exceeded $100. But landlords can still deduct losses from theft or damage to their rental properties, as business expenses.

2. Property Depreciation
This is a handy “paper expense.” Much of the cost of buying your property can be written off as a tax deduction, although it must be spread over 27.5 years (don’t ask me where that number came from). Buildings lose value as they age (at least theoretically), so the IRS lets you deduct 1/27.5 of the property’s cost each year.

Major property upgrades and “capital improvements” must be depreciated as well, rather than deducted in the year you make them. For example, a new roof is a capital improvement that must be depreciated, rather than deducted all at once.

But the patching of a roof leak? That’s a repair.

3. Repairs & Maintenance
Basic repairs and maintenance such as new paint and new carpets are deductible for your rental properties. That’s not the case for your primary residence, in which repairs are not deductible. Remember, if it’s a large improvement or replacement (like the roof example), it may count as a “capital improvement,” in which case you’ll have to spread the deduction over multiple years, in the form of depreciation.

The line isn’t always crystal clear however, like the roof example above. Here’s an example of how it gets blurry: if you replace all your windows to modernize and improve your energy efficiency, it’s a capital improvement. If a baseball goes through one window, which you replace, it’s a repair. But what if you replaced a few windows last year, but not all? Talk to an accountant, and build a defensible argument for any repairs you deduct.

4. Segmented Depreciation
Some improvements, such as landscaping and “personal property” inside the rental/investment property (e.g. refrigerators) can be depreciated faster than the building itself. It’s more paperwork, to segment the depreciation of certain improvements as separate from the building’s depreciation, but it means a lower tax bill right now, not in the far distant, unknowable future.

5. Utilities
Do you pay for gas, heating, trash removal, sewer or any other utility for your rental? They are tax deductible.

Take heed however, if your tenant reimburses you for a utility, that would be considered income. So, you have to declare both the income and the expense, even though they offset each other.

6. Home Office
This is a popular deduction, but it’s also one you need to be careful about, as it can trigger audits. You have to set aside a percentage of your home for only doing work/business/real estate investing-related activities, and that percentage of your housing bill can be deducted. And 2018 may see this deduction scrutinized even more.

One new downer: no more home office deduction for those who work for others in the comfort of their home. But as a real estate investor, you’re a business owner, so you can still claim it if you use the space exclusively for “business.”

Make sure and talk to an accountant about this, and keep the percentage realistic.

7. Real Estate-Related Travel
Another popular-but-dangerous deduction, you can deduct travel expenses if your travel was for your real estate investing business… and you can prove it. Many people get cute with this one, and when they go on vacation, they’ll go see one or two “potential investment” properties and then write the entire trip off as a business expense.

Whenever you plan on deducting travel expenses, put together as much documentation as you possibly can so that you can make a strong case that it was an actual business trip. For example, meet with a real estate agent in the area, and keep all of your email correspondence with them. Keep all listing information and investment calculations for any properties you visit. Track your mileage for all driving done to and from rental properties.

C-Y-A!

8. Closing Costs
Many closing costs are tax deductible, and others can be depreciated over time as part of your acquisition cost. Use an accountant with a deep knowledge of real estate investments, and send them the HUD-1 (settlement statement) for each property you bought last year.

9. Mortgage Insurance (PMI/MIP)
No one likes mortgage insurance (other than banks). At least you can deduct the cost from your taxable rental property income.

10. Property Management Fees
Paid a property manager to handle the headaches for you and field those dreaded 3 AM phone calls from tenants? You can write off their management fees, including both monthly fees and tenant placement fees.

11. Rental Property Insurance/Landlord Insurance
Like homeowner’s insurance for your primary residence, your landlord insurance premium for each property is also tax deductible.

12. Mortgage Interest
All interest you pay to your mortgage lender on rental property loans remains tax deductible. As mentioned above, it’s an “above the line” deduction that simply comes off of your taxable rental property income.

But for your primary residence, 2018 limits the deductibility of mortgage interest only up to $750,000 of home mortgage debt.

13. Accounting, Legal & Other Professional Fees
All professional fees associated with your rental properties are tax deductible. Bookkeeping, accounting, attorney, real estate agent and any other fees you pay out for professional services can be deducted from your taxable income. Don’t forget the cost of any bookkeeping or landlord software (ahem!) you use.

One wrinkle introduced by the TCJA however is that personal tax preparation expenses are no longer deductible from 2018 onward. But business accounting – such as for your real estate LLC or S-corp – is still deductible as a rental business expense for landlords. Talk to your accountant about shifting as many of your tax preparation expenses as possible to the “business” side of the books!

14. Tenant Screening
If you paid for tenant credit reports, criminal background checks, identity verifications, eviction history reports, employment and income verification or housing history verification, those fees are deductible.

Even better, have the applicant pay directly for tenant screening report costs. Which, I might add, our landlord software allows you to do!

15. Legal Forms
Bought a state-specific lease agreement this year? Eviction notices? Property management contracts? The cost of legal forms is also deductible.

16. Property Taxes
Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, landlords can still deduct rental property taxes as an expense.

But it’s a little more complicated for homeowners, and even though this is a list of landlord tax deductions, let’s take a moment to review the changes for homeowners, shall we?

In 2018, you can no longer deduct for state and local taxes in excess of $10,000. These state taxes include things like: state and local income tax, sales taxes, personal property tax, and… property taxes.

What does this mean for high-tax states like New York, New Jersey or Connecticut? Well, it could mean that more people may relocate to lower-tax states like Florida, and may even spark lower property values in states such as New Jersey. Only time will tell.

17. Phones, Tablets, Computers, Phone Service, Internet
Bought a new phone this year? Maybe a new laptop or tablet? If you use it for work, you can probably persuade your accountant (and the IRS) that the costs should be deducted from your taxable income. Likewise, for internet bills, phone service charges and the like, with the caveat that you need to be able to document that it was for business purposes. Printer toner, computer paper, pens, and the like; keep those receipts.

18. Licensing Fees
Licensing and registration fees are sometimes a local requirement for rental properties. For instance, in the city of Philadelphia, a rental license fee is required along with an inspection of the property.

So, if you’ve had to purchase or renew a landlord or rental license for the property, that cost is deductible.

Furthermore, some localities will require a vacation rental license for short term rentals such as seasonal, AirBnB and the like. These licensing costs are deductible as well.

19. Occupancy Tax
There are states that assess an occupancy tax on collected rental amounts, comparable to paying sales tax. This is more of a common practice in states where short-term rentals are common. Florida, Arizona and New Jersey are examples of states that charge an occupancy or tourist tax.

If you own rental property in an area that charges an occupancy-like tax, then the amount is tax deductible. Remember, however, that the tax will not only differ from state to state but also from local jurisdictions like cities and counties.

20. Business Entity Pass-Through Deduction
There are significant changes in 2018 tax regulations on how legal entities (e.g. LLCs) and pass-throughs and the like are going to be treated. Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, and Corporate Entities are now entitled to a “pass-through” deduction as long as the rental activities meet the requirements for business tax purposes.

The short version is that landlords can deduct 20% of their rental business income from their taxable business income amount. For example, if you own a rental property that netted you $10,000 last year, the pass-through deduction reduces your taxable rental business income from $10,000 to $8,000. Pretty sweet, eh?

There are restrictions, of course. The deduction phases out for single tax payers with adjusted gross incomes over $157,500, and married taxpayers earning over $315,000. Although under some conditions, higher-earning landlords can still take advantage of the pass-through deduction – definitely discuss with your accountant.

One more reason, beyond asset protection, to own rental properties under a legal entity!

Final Word

It’s hard to get ahead if 50% of your income is going to taxes (which it probably is, if you add up everything you pay in sales tax, property tax, federal income tax, state income tax, local income tax and FICA taxes). But by being savvier with your documentation and deductions, landlords and real estate investors can pay less in taxes than other people, and truly realize the advantages of entrepreneurship.

Remember to always document every expense you plan to deduct. That means keeping receipts, invoices and bills throughout the year as expenses pop up; to help with this, keep a separate checking account for your real estate expenses if you don’t already. Never swipe that debit card or write a check from that account without first getting documentation!

Credit Given to:  G. Brian Davis

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 | The Most Common Tax Forms for the New Year January 1, 2020

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : Business consulting, Business Consulting, Deductions, General, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Preparation, Uncategorized , add a comment

Happy New Year!

Now it’s time to get ready for the tax filing season.

Hopefully, you followed some of the suggestions outlined in Publication 552 to organize your records. If you did, great! This will make filing your tax returns a lot easier this year. It also means that you and your tax advisor can spend more time on tax and financial planning issues for 2020 vs. looking back to 2019. 

This week we will look at some of the more common forms that you should be watching for in the coming weeks and months:

W-2:    Employers should mail these by 1/31/20. If you have moved during the year, make sure former employers are aware of your new address. Some employers provide W-2’s to their employees via a website. Be sure to login and print out your W-2 after it is available.

W-2G:    Casinos, Lottery Commissions and other gambling entities should mail these by 1/31/20 if you have gambling winnings above a certain threshold. Note:  Some casinos will issue you a W-2G at the time you win a jackpot. Make sure you have saved those throughout the year.

1098-C:    You might receive this form if you made contributions of motor vehicles, boats, or airplanes to a qualified charitable organization. A donee organization must file a separate Form 1098-C with the IRS for each contribution of a qualified vehicle that has a claimed value of more than $500. All filers of this form may truncate a donor’s identification number (social security number, individual taxpayer identification number, adoption taxpayer identification number, or employer identification number), on written acknowledgements. Truncation is not allowed, however, on any documents the filer files with the IRS.

1099-MISC:   This form reports the total paid during the year to a single person or entity for services provided. Certain Medicaid waiver payments may be excludable from the income as difficulty of care payments.  A new check box was added to this form to identify a foreign financial institution filing this form to satisfy its Chapter 4 reporting requirement.

1099-INT:    This form is used to report interest income paid by banks and other financial institutions. Box 13 was added to report bond premium on tax-exempt bonds. All later boxes were renumbered. A new check box was added to this form to identify a foreign financial institution filing this form to satisfy its Chapter 4 reporting requirement.

1099-DIV:    This form is issued to those who have received dividends from stocks. A new check box was added to this form to identify a foreign financial institution filing this form to satisfy its Chapter 4 reporting requirement.

1099-B:     This form is issued by a broker or barter exchange that summarizes the proceeds of sales transactions. For a sale of a debt instrument that is a wash sale and has accrued market discount, a code “W” should be displayed in box 1f and the amount of the wash sale loss disallowed in box 1g.

1099-K:    This form is given to those merchants accepting payment card transactions. Completion of box 1b (Card Not Present transactions) is now mandatory.

K-1s:    If you are a partner, member or shareholder in a partnership or S corporation, your income and expenses will be reported to you on a K-1. The tax returns for these entities are not due until 3/16/20 (if they have a calendar-year accounting). Sometimes, you may not receive a K-1 until shortly after the entity’s tax return is filed in March.

If you are a beneficiary of an estate or trust, your share of the income and expenses for the year will also be reported on a K-1. These returns will be due 4/15/20 so you might not receive your K-1 before the due date of your Form 1040.

NOTE:  Many times corporations, partnerships, estates and trusts will put their tax returns on extension. If they do, the due date of the return is not until 9/15/20 or later. We often see clients receiving K-1s in the third week of September.

If you receive, or expect to receive, a K-1 it is best if you place your personal return on extension. It is a lot easier to extend your return than it is to amend your return after receiving a K-1 later in the year.

1098:    This form is sent by banks or other lenders to provide the amount of mortgage interest paid on mortgage loans. The form might also show real estate taxes paid and other useful information related to the loan.

1098-T:    This form is provided by educational institutions and shows the amounts paid or billed for tuition, scholarships received, and other educational information. These amounts are needed to calculate educational credits that may be taken on your returns.

So start watching your mailbox and put all of these statements you receive in that new file you created!

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.

–until next week