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Tax Tip of the Week | Your 2019 Guide to Tax Deductions December 11, 2019

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

Practically all of the significant federal tax law changes were first effective on your 2018 federal income tax return. Many of these changes are still in place for your 2019 income tax return. Apparently, the media believes these changes to be old news; and, therefore, are not giving it any press coverage. But, the impact of these changes were so far-reaching, a refresher for all of us should be in order.

                               -Mark Bradstreet

Here are all of the tax deductions still available to American households and the requirements for claiming each one.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was the biggest overhaul to the U.S. tax code in decades, and it made some significant changes to the tax deductions that are available. Many tax deductions were kept intact, but others were modified, and some were eliminated entirely.

There are also several different types of tax deductions, and these can get a bit confusing. For example, some tax deductions are only available if you choose to itemize deductions, while others can be taken even if you opt for the standard deduction. With all that in mind, here’s a rundown of what Americans need to know about tax deductions as the 2019 tax filing season opens.

What is a tax deduction?

The term “tax deduction” simply refers to any item that can reduce your taxable income. For example, if you pay $2,000 in tax-deductible student loan interest, this means your taxable income will be reduced by $2,000 for the year in which you paid the interest.

There are several different types of tax deductions. The standard deduction is one that every American household is entitled to, regardless of their expenses during the year. Taxpayers can claim itemizable deductions instead of the standard deduction if it benefits them to do so. Above-the-line deductions, which are also known as adjustments to income, can be used by households regardless of whether they itemize or not. And finally, there are a few other items that don’t really fit into one of these categories but are still tax deductions.

The standard deduction
When filling out their tax returns, American households can choose to itemize certain deductions (we’ll get to those in a bit), or they can take the standard deduction — whichever is more beneficial to them.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled the standard deduction. Before the increase, about 70% of U.S. households used the standard deduction, but now it is estimated that roughly 95% of households will use it. For the 2018 and 2019 tax years, here are the standard deduction amounts.

Tax Filing Status2018 Standard Deduction2019 Standard Deduction
Married Filing Jointly$24,000$24,400
Head of Household$18,000$18,350
Single$12,000$12,200
Married Filing Separately$12,000$12,200

DATA SOURCE: IRS.

To be perfectly clear, unless your itemizable deductions exceed the standard deduction amount for your filing status, you’ll be better off using the standard deduction.

Itemized deductions

The alternative to taking the standard deduction is choosing to itemize deductions. Itemizing means deducting each and every deductible expense you incurred during the tax year.

For this to be worthwhile, your itemizable deductions must be greater than the standard deduction to which you are entitled. For the vast majority of taxpayers, itemizing will not be worth it for the 2018 and 2019 tax years. Not only did the standard deduction nearly double, but several formerly itemizable tax deductions were eliminated entirely, and others have become more restricted than they were before.

With that in mind, here are the itemizable tax deductions you may be able to take advantage of when you prepare your tax return in 2019.

Mortgage interest

The mortgage interest deduction is among the tax deductions that still exist after the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, but for many taxpayers it won’t be quite as valuable as it used to be.

Specifically, homeowners are allowed to deduct the interest they pay on as much as $750,000 of qualified personal residence debt on a first and/or second home. This has been reduced from the former limit of $1 million in mortgage principal plus up to $100,000 in home equity debt.

On that note, the deduction for interest on home equity debt has technically been eliminated for the 2018 tax year and beyond. However, if the home equity loan was used to substantially improve the home, the debt is considered a qualified residence loan and can therefore be included in the $750,000 cap.

Charitable contributions

This is perhaps the least changed of the major tax deductions. Contributions to qualified charitable organizations are still deductible for tax purposes, and in fact the deduction has become a bit more generous for the ultra-charitable. U.S. taxpayers can now deduct charitable donations of as much as 60% of their adjusted gross income (AGI), up from 50% of AGI.

One negative change to note: If you donate to a college in exchange for the ability to buy athletic tickets, that is no longer considered a charitable donation for tax purposes.

Medical expenses

The IRS allows taxpayers to deduct qualified medical expenses above a certain percentage of their adjusted gross income. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced this threshold from 10% of AGI to 7.5%, but only for the 2017 and 2018 tax years. So, when you file your 2018 tax return this year, you can deduct qualified medical expenses exceeding 7.5% of your AGI. For example, say your AGI is $50,000, and you incur $5,000 in qualified medical expenses. The threshold you need to cross before you can start deducting those expenses is 7.5% of $50,000, or $3,750. Your expenses are $1,250 above the threshold, so that’s the amount you can deduct from your taxable income.

However, the medical deduction threshold is set to return to 10% of AGI starting with the 2019 tax year. So, when you file your 2019 tax return in 2020, you’ll use this higher percentage to determine whether you qualify for the deduction.

State income tax or state sales tax

The IRS gives taxpayers the choice to claim either their state and local income tax or their state and local sales tax as an itemized deduction. Naturally, if your state doesn’t have an income tax, the sales tax deduction is the way to go. On the other hand, if your state does have an income tax, then deducting that will generally save you more money than deducting sales tax.

One quick note: If you choose the sales tax deduction, you don’t necessarily need to save each and every receipt to document how much sales tax you’ve paid. The IRS provides a handy calculator you can use to easily determine your sales tax deduction.

Property taxes

If you pay property tax on a home, car, boat, airplane, or other personal property, you can count it toward your itemized deductions. This deduction and the deduction for income or sales tax are collectively known as the SALT deduction — that is, the “state and local taxes” deduction.

There’s one major caveat when it comes to the SALT deduction. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act limits the total amount of state and local taxes you can deduct — including property taxes and sales/income tax — to $10,000 per year. So if you live in a high-tax state or simply own some valuable property that you pay tax on, this could significantly limit your ability to deduct these expenses.

The bottom line on itemizable deductions

That wraps up the major itemizable deductions that are still available under the newly revised U.S. tax code. As you can see, there aren’t many of them, and some of those that remain — such as the medical expense and SALT deductions — are quite limited.

For itemizing to be worth your while, you need some combination of these deductions to exceed your standard deduction. It’s easy to see why most taxpayers won’t itemize going forward.

As a personal example, my wife and I have traditionally itemized our deductions. However, in 2018 we’ll have about $9,000 in deductible mortgage interest, a few thousand dollars in charitable contributions, and about $6,000 in state and local taxes, including property taxes. In previous years, this would have made itemizing well worth it, but it looks like we’ll be using the standard deduction when we file our return in 2019.

Above-the-line tax deductions

While you need to itemize deductions to take advantage of the deductions I discussed in the previous section, there are quite a few tax deductions that you can use regardless of whether you itemize or take the standard deduction.

These are known as adjustments to income and are more commonly referred to as above-the-line tax deductions. And with a few exceptions, most of these survived the recent tax reform unscathed. Here are the above-the-line deductions you may be able to take advantage of in 2019.

Tax-deferred retirement contributions

If you contribute to any tax-deferred retirement accounts, you can generally deduct the contributions from your taxable income, even if you don’t itemize. This includes:

Contributions to a qualified retirement plan such as a traditional 401(k) or 403(b). For 2018, the maximum elective deferral by an employee is $18,500, and for the 2019 tax year this is increasing to $19,000. If you’re 50 or older, these limits are raised by $6,000 each year.

Contributions to a traditional IRA. The IRA contribution limit is $5,500 for the 2018 tax year and $6,000 for 2019, with an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution allowed if you’re 50 or older. However, it’s important to point out that if you or your spouse is covered by a retirement plan at work, your ability to take the traditional IRA deduction is income-restricted.

If you are self-employed, your contributions to a SEP-IRA, SIMPLE IRA, or Solo 401(k) are generally deductible, unless they are made on an after-tax (Roth) basis.

Health savings account (HSA) and flexible spending account (FSA) contributions

If you contribute to a tax-advantaged healthcare savings account (HSA), your contributions are tax-deductible up to the IRS’s contribution limits. The 2018 contribution limit is $3,450 for those with single healthcare policies or $6,900 those with family coverage. In 2019, these limits will increase to $3,500 and $7,000, respectively. There’s also a $1,000 catch-up allowance if you’re 55 or older.

An HSA has many unique features. Most importantly, you can withdraw your HSA funds tax-free from your account at any time to cover qualifying medical expenses. That means you can get a tax break on both your contribution and your withdrawal — a perk that no IRA or 401(k) offers. Once you turn 65, you can withdraw money for non-healthcare purposes for any reason without paying a penalty — though you’ll have to pay income tax on withdrawals that don’t go toward qualifying medical expenses. Additionally, unlike a flexible spending account (more on this below), an HSA allows you to carry over and invest your money year after year.

You can participate in an HSA if all of the following apply:

You’re covered by a high-deductible health plan (HDHP)

You’re not covered by another health plan that is not an HDHP

You’re not enrolled in Medicare

You’re not claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return

If you don’t qualify for an HSA, you may still be able to contribute to a flexible spending account, or FSA. The FSA contribution limit is $2,650 in 2018 and $2,700 in 2019. While FSAs aren’t quite as beneficial as HSAs, they can still shelter a good amount of your income from taxation. Beware that you can only roll over up to $500 in leftover funds to the following year, so for the most part, FSAs are “use it or lose it” accounts.

Dependent care FSA contributions

There’s another type of flexible spending account that’s designed to help families pay for child care expenses. Married couples filing jointly can set aside as much as $5,000 per year on a pre-tax basis, and single filers can set aside as much as $2,500 to be spent on qualifying dependent care expenses.

Note that you can’t use a dependent care FSA and the popular Child and Dependent Care tax credit for the same expenses. However, with child care expenses running well into the five-figure range in many parts of the country, it’s fair to say that many parents should be able to take advantage of both child care tax breaks.

Teacher classroom expenses

If you’re a full-time K-12 teacher and have paid for any classroom expenses out of pocket, you can deduct up to $250 of those expenses as an above-the-line tax deduction. Potential qualifying expenses could include classroom supplies, books you use in teaching, and software you purchase and use in your classroom, just to name a few.

Student loan interest

The IRS allows taxpayers to take an above-the-line deduction for up to $2,500 in qualifying student loan interest per year. To qualify, you must be legally obligated to pay the interest on the loan — essentially this means the loan is in your name. You also cannot be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return, and if you choose the “married filing separately” status, it will disqualify you from using this deduction.

One important thing to know: Your lender will only send you a tax form (Form 1098-E) if you paid more than $600 in student loan interest throughout the year. If you paid less than this amount, you are still eligible for the deduction, but you’ll need to log into your loan servicer’s website to get the required information.

Half of the self-employment tax

There are some excellent tax benefits available to self-employed individuals (we’ll discuss some in the next section), but one downside is the self-employment tax.

If you’re an employee, you pay half of the tax for Social Security and Medicare, while your employer pays the other half. Unfortunately, if you’re self-employed, you have to pay both sides of these taxes, which is collectively known as the self-employment tax.

One silver lining is that you can deduct one-half of the self-employment tax as an above-the-line deduction. While this doesn’t completely offset the additional burden of paying the tax, it certainly helps to lessen the sting.

Home office deduction

If you use a portion of your home exclusively for business, you may be able to take the home office deduction for expenses related to its use. The IRS has two main requirements you need to meet. First, the space you claim as your office must be used regularly and exclusively for business. In other words, if you regularly set up your laptop in your living room where you also watch TV every night, you shouldn’t claim a home office deduction for the space.

Second, the space you claim must be the principal place you conduct business. Generally, this means you’re self-employed, but there are some circumstances in which the IRS allows employees to take the home office deduction as well.

There are two ways to calculate the deduction. The simplified method allows you to deduct $5 per square foot, up to a maximum of 300 square feet of dedicated office space. The more complicated method involves deducting the actual expenses of operating in that space, such as the proportion of your housing payment and utility expenses that are represented by the space, as well as expenses relating to the maintenance of your home office. You are free to use whichever method is more beneficial to you.

Other tax deductions

In addition to the itemizable and above-the-line deductions I’ve discussed, there are a few tax deductions that deserve separate mention, because they generally apply only if you have specific types of income.

Investment losses: If you sold any investments at a loss, you can use these losses to offset any capital gains income that you have. Short-term losses must first be used to offset short-term gains, while long-term losses must first be applied to long-term gains. And if your investment losses exceed your gains for the year, you can use up to $3,000 in remaining net losses to reduce your other taxable income for the year. If there are still losses remaining, you can carry them forward to future years.

Pass-through income: This deduction is a product of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and is designed to help small-business owners save money. U.S. taxpayers can now use as much as 20% of their pass-through income as a deduction. This includes income from an LLC, S-Corporation, or sole proprietorship, as well as partnership income and income from rental real estate, just to name some of the potential sources. The deduction is not available to certain taxpayers whose income comes from “specified service businesses” (more details here) and exceeds certain thresholds.

Gambling losses: You can deduct gambling losses on your taxes, but only to the extent that you have gambling winnings. In other words, if none of your income came from gambling, you can’t deduct the $500 you lost on your last trip to Las Vegas.

Other self-employed deductions: Finally, if you’re self-employed, there are a ton of business deductions you may be able to take advantage of. You can deduct business-related travel expenses, office supplies and equipment, and health insurance premiums from your self-employment income, just to name a few potential deductions. And don’t forget about the special retirement accounts for the self-employed that we covered earlier.

Credit Given to:  Matthew Frankel, CFP

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 | Could You or Someone You Know Be Missing Out On Earned Income Credit? October 16, 2019

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

The Earned Income Tax Credit aka EIC is a benefit in the form of an income tax credit designed for working people with low to moderate income. To be eligible, one must meet certain requirements including filing an income tax return even if a tax return was not otherwise necessary to file. EIC is a refundable tax credit which means that a refund may be due you even if a tax liability did not exist. This credit may be as much as $6,431 so we can be talking about some real money. Although, the calculation is not complex, there are enough moving parts that estimating it short of preparing the income tax return is difficult. Many people miss out on this credit by not filing. Too often, a taxpayer looks at the tax return filing requirements and concludes filing a return is not necessary because their income is below the filing threshold. In many of these instances, the taxpayer may be walking away from a very significant refund.

The below Detroit Free Press article by Susan Tomporat was published on February 7, 2019. It provides additional information on the Earned Income Credit.

                                                     -Mark Bradstreet

The Earned Income Tax Credit is the biggest single check many working families see in a year. But they have to file a tax return — and be aware of the credit — to get the money.

Three years ago, low- to moderate-income households in Detroit left upwards of $80 million in unclaimed money by not claiming the credit. It was estimated that about 26,000 Detroit households were eligible for the credit but did not file tax returns to apply.

After a targeted awareness campaign that began in 2017, though, city officials say an average of 13,500 more Detroit residents each year have claimed their EITC. On average, $63 million more is being claimed each year. 

About $300 million has been claimed on average annually for the 2016 and 2017 tax years by Detroiters. The average EITC Refund: $4,600. The amounts represent a combination of state and federal earned income tax credits. 

Nearly 88,000 returns for Detroiters included the Earned Income Tax Credit. 

“It was a blessing to learn about this tax credit,” said Renee Perkins, 29, who works at MGM Grand Detroit at game tables dealing cards.

Perkins, a single mother with two children ages 7 and 1, expects to receive a tax refund of about $6,000 this year for state and federal taxes. It’s money she plans to save and use one day toward opening her own business offering assisted living to the elderly.

In the past, she has used the credit to pay down her debt and also put a down payment on a home once owned by the Detroit Land Bank.

“The extra cash helped me to accomplish a lot,” she said Tuesday as part of an awareness campaign event held at Focus: HOPE in Detroit.

Even so, the credit still remains overlooked by thousands of families. Here’s what you need to know:

Who qualifies to get the credit?

You must have earned income from a job and meet other requirements. For example, both your earned income and your adjusted gross income must be less than $45,802 in 2018 to qualify if you are single and have two qualifying children.

The limit is less than $51,492 for married couples filing a joint return with two qualifying children.

What’s the credit worth? 

The credit, for example, can be worth up to $6,431 this year for a working couple who qualifies with three or more children. 

But the size of the tax refund would vary considerably depending on your income, filing status and the number of qualifying children claimed on the tax return. 

To claim the credit, a tax return must be filed. 

The refundable tax credit enables tax filers to get back more from the federal government than you paid in taxes, so there’s a good chance for a significant refund. 

Nationwide, 25 million eligible workers and families received about $63 billion in the Earned Income Tax Credit during 2018. 

The average amount of EITC received nationwide was about $2,488.

Do you need a child to get the credit? 

No. But the income limits and the actual amount of the credit are significantly lower for those without children. 

The credit ranges from $2 to $519 for those with no qualifying children.

If you do not have children, your earned income and adjusted gross income must be less than $15,270 if you’re single to qualify for the credit. The limit is $20,950 for those who have no children and are married filing a joint return. 

Special EITC rules also apply for calculating the credit for those receiving disability benefits or have a qualifying child with a disability, members of the military, and ministers or members of the clergy. 

Why don’t people file for the credit?

Some don’t understand the credit. They might not have qualified in other years but may qualify now because their income has fallen. 

Some people think they just paid their taxes through payroll withholding and don’t need to file a return. They don’t understand how the complex credit can help get them more money.

Some people who don’t make a lot of money may not actually be required to file a federal income tax return. 

For some people, things could be more confusing this tax season. 

Under the new tax rules, the filing requirement thresholds have increased on 2018 returns somewhat because of the new standard deductions, according to Marshall Hunt, certified public accountant and director of tax policy for the Accounting Aid Society’s tax assistance program in metro Detroit.

“For example, as a general rule, a single person under 65 is required to file with gross income of $12,000 or more,” Hunt said.

“And for a married filing joint couple under 65 it’s $24,000.”

Last year, he noted, the amounts were $10,400 and $20,800. However, many should file in order to get a refund of money through credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit even if they’re not required to file, Hunt said.

Returns can be amended for up to three years for any unclaimed benefits.

Families and individuals with incomes up to $55,000 may be eligible for the Accounting Aid Society’s free full service tax help. If so, the service offers to prepare and file your federal, state and local income tax returns, and to ensure you receive all of your federal and state Earned Income Tax Credits.

When do you receive a tax refund? 

Early filers may have to wait longer than expected, if they’re claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit on a tax return.

The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act, passed in 2015, mandated that the Internal Revenue Service cannot issue tax refunds that benefit from the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit before mid-February. The mid-February rule was put into place to combat tax refund fraud. 

This tax season, the IRS said people will have to wait until at least Feb. 27 for refunds with those credits to be available in their bank accounts or on their debit cards via direct deposit. That’s if there are no other issues with their tax return.

Credit given to: Susan Tomporat.

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 | “Transfer on Death” Designation – Be Vigilant!! October 9, 2019

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

Using the “transfer on death” or “payable on death” beneficiary designation is very easy to set-up for your investments. This type of designation allows the account owner to choose a beneficiary to whom the assets would quickly pass upon the owner’s death. Often your broker, banker or financial planner will suggest using these designations as a means to avoid probate court on these assets.

The “transfer on death” or “payable on death” beneficiary designation is also easy to change. BUT you have to remember to make the necessary changes “in the event of changing circumstances such as births, deaths or divorces – or for no reason at all.” Failure to add a new child, lack of consideration for the tax bracket that your beneficiaries are in, a beneficiary death, or your death “before beneficiaries reach adulthood” are a few of those life events which necessitate a beneficiary update.

The “transfer on death” or “payable on death” beneficiary designations are not always a good quick fix for estate planning. “Experts advise monitoring (them) periodically. Consider (them) a part of estate planning, not a substitute for it.”

Excerpts from the WSJ article below, titled “Pitfalls of “Designated Beneficiaries” for Mutual-Fund Accounts was published in the WSJ on July 9, 2019.

                                                                                                         -Mark Bradstreet

Sometimes what seems to be simple isn’t really so simple at all.

Consider investment accounts with a “transfer on death” or “payable on death” designation. This type of account, which can be set up easily at brokerage firms and may contain mutual funds, stocks, bonds or other investments, allows the owner to designate a beneficiary or beneficiaries to whom the assets will pass quickly once the owner dies.

The advantage most often cited with these accounts is that whatever funds are in them go directly to beneficiaries, without having to go through the probate process. Beneficiaries typically only have to present proof of identity and a certified copy of the account owner’s death certificate to the investment company and the account passes to them.

Another advantage is that the designated beneficiaries can be changed at any time, and without consequence, up until the account owner’s death. The owner has the right to add or remove names in the event of changing circumstances such as births, deaths or divorces—or for no reason at all.

But there also are pitfalls associated with these types of accounts, which is why financial experts recommend people do their homework before establishing one. A few of the issues:

Life changes

As noted, one of the advantages of these accounts is that they can be changed at any time. But one of the disadvantages is that people may not change them when they should.

These accounts need to be carefully coordinated with your overall estate plan—and updated as life changes. If you fail to do this, family discord and litigation among your heirs could ensue. For example, if two children are named as beneficiaries of a transfer-on-death account, and a third child is born later, that child won’t be entitled to share in the distribution even if all three are named as heirs of the estate.

Similarly, if one of your beneficiaries is in a high tax bracket and another in a low one, an even distribution of a transfer-on-death account might result in an uneven distribution of your assets—even if that wasn’t your intention when you set it up originally. And if your beneficiary dies before you do, and you fail to update the designation listed on the account, the assets will go into your estate upon your death.

“People never get around to changing their accounts” says Ralph M. Engel, senior counsel in the trusts, estates and wealth-management group of Dentons US LLP. “When there are uneven amounts and you aren’t treating your kids equally, it could break up families.”

Another reason these accounts should be coordinated with your overall estate plan: If most of your assets are in one of these accounts, there may not be enough money left over to pay taxes, debts and other expenses associated with your estate. Your executor may then have to negotiate or go through legal proceedings with the account beneficiaries to access the necessary funds for these expenses.

“If an estate is more complicated, you don’t have as much flexibility with a transfer-on-death account as you do with a will or trust,” says Roger Young a senior financial planner at T. Rowe Price in Baltimore.

Spousal rights

Naming minors as beneficiaries of transfer-on-death accounts also can lead to problems if you die before your beneficiaries reach adulthood. That’s because investment firms won’t release assets to minors without a court order or evidence of a guardianship, indicating that an adult has the legal authority to make financial decisions for the child. As such, bequeathing funds through a will or trust may be preferable if your beneficiaries are young children.

Married couples can create joint transfer-on-death accounts, but it is important to remember that if one spouse dies the other generally receives full control of the account under the right of survivorship. That means the surviving spouse could revoke or modify the beneficiary designation at any time. It also means beneficiaries won’t receive the account until the surviving spouse also dies.

Of course, you can’t shortchange your spouse by creating a transfer-on-death account in your name only because your spouse may have rights to some or all of the money upon your death, regardless of who is named as the account’s beneficiary. Although details vary by state, a surviving spouse can make a spousal election, which gives him or her the right to receive a certain percentage of the estate’s assets. This percentage is generally between one-third and one-half of the assets. If you live in a community-property state, the surviving spouse may even own half of any account that is in your name only. The value of the transfer-on-death account would be included in this calculation.

Finally, keep in mind that your beneficiary has no right to the transfer-on-death account while you are still alive—unless you have a power of attorney granting that right.

If you decide to establish a transfer-on-death account despite these pitfalls, experts advise monitoring it periodically. Consider it a part of estate planning, not a substitute for it.

Credit Given to:  Leonard Sloane. Mr. Sloane is a writer in New York. He can be reached at reports@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 | 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.

Five Things to Know About Proposed Tweaks to the Retirement Systems March 13, 2019

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

The following article, by Anne Tergesen (WSJ), discusses possible revisions to the USA retirement system. These “proposed tweaks” may never happen or if they do, the changes will most likely be different than what follows. When I first began in taxes, an elderly tax practitioner told me to stop worrying about the future tax law changes and to make my decisions based upon the current law. For more often than not, I thought that was good advice. But that is not to say, we should bury our heads in the sand and not consider the provisions that Congress is working on.

-Mark Bradstreet

“In addition to giving annuities a greater role in 401(k) plans as part of its proposals to tweak the U.S. retirement system, Congress is considering provisions that could serve to expand workers’ access to retirement-savings plans and make it easier for savers to tap their accounts in case of emergencies. Here are five changes Americans could see in their 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts.

(1)     A New Item on 401(k) Disclosures
Currently, 401(k) plans are required to send participants quarterly and annual account statements with their balance. Under the proposed legislation, plan sponsors would have to show an estimate of the monthly income a participant’s balance could generate with an annuity, a detail akin to the payoff disclosures required on credit-card statements. The goal is to help workers better understand how prepared they are to maintain their income in retirement.

(2) A Repeal of the Age Limit on IRA Contributions
If you are 70 ½ or older, you can’t currently make deductible contributions to a traditional IRA. Congress is considering removing the age cap and allowing people above 70 ½ or older to deposit up to $6,500 a year in either a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. With a traditional IRA, account holder’s generally get to subtract their contributions from their income but they must pay ordinary income taxes on the money when they withdraw it – something they are required to do starting at age 70 ½ (the bill would do nothing to change that). With a Roth IRA, there is no upfront tax deduction but the money increases tax-free.

(3) More Types of Savings Accounts
Among the proposals under consideration is a new type of universal savings account that would offer more-flexible withdrawal rules than existing retirement accounts, according to Rep. Kenny Marchant (R, Texas) Employers could also be allowed to automatically enroll workers into emergency savings accounts. (Employees would be free to opt out.)

(4)  More Ways for Graduate Students to Fund IRAs
The bill would allow students to contribute taxable stipend or fellowship payments to an IRA, something that’s not currently possible.

(5)  Pooled 401(k) Plans
For years policy makers have tried to make retirement-savings plans more attractive and affordable to small businesses, many of which have no plan at all. About one-half of private-sector employees, many of whom work for small companies, lack access to a workplace retirement plan. Under one measure before Congress, small employers would be able to more easily band together to spread out the administrative costs of 401(k) plans. The proposal would eliminate a requirement that employers have a connection, such as being members of the same industry trade group, in order to join a so-called multiple-employer plan. Congress is also considering expanding a tax credit available to small companies to offset the costs of starting a new retirement plan. The annual credit amount would increase from $500 to as much as $5,000 for three years.”

Credit given to Anne Tergesen, WSJ
Saturday/Sunday July 21-22, 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 Bradstreet, CPA
–until next week.