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Two New Employer Tax Credits July 15, 2020

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : Business consulting, Business Consulting, COVID, COVID-19, General, tax changes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Preparation, Tax Tip, Taxes, Taxes, Uncategorized , add a comment

July 15, 2020                         

Many businesses that have been severely impacted by Coronavirus (COVID-19) will qualify for two new employer tax credits – the Credit for Sick and Family Leave and the Employee Retention Credit.

Sick and Family Leave – Credit for Sick and Family Leave

An employee who is unable to work (including telework) because of Coronavirus quarantine or self-quarantine or has Coronavirus symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis, is entitled to paid sick leave for up to ten days (up to 80 hours) at the employee’s regular rate of pay, or, if higher, the Federal minimum wage or any applicable State or local minimum wage, up to $511 per day, but no more than $5,110 in total.

Caring for someone with Coronavirus

An employee who is unable to work due to caring for someone with Coronavirus, or caring for a child because the child’s school or place of care is closed, or the paid child care provider is unavailable due to the Coronavirus, is entitled to paid sick leave for up to two weeks (up to 80 hours) at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay or, if higher, the Federal minimum wage or any applicable State or local minimum wage, up to $200 per day, but no more than $2,000 in total.

Care for children due to daycare or school closure

An employee who is unable to work because of a need to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed or whose child care provider is unavailable due to the Coronavirus, is also entitled to paid family and medical leave equal to two-thirds of the employee’s regular pay, up to $200 per day and $10,000 in total. Up to ten weeks of qualifying leave can be counted towards the family leave credit.

Credit for eligible employers

Eligible employers are entitled to receive a credit in the full amount of the required sick leave and family leave, plus related health plan expenses and the employer’s share of Medicare tax on the leave, for the period of April 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020.  The refundable credit is applied against certain employment taxes on wages paid to all employees. Eligible employers can reduce federal employment tax deposits in anticipation of the credit.  They can also request an advance of the paid sick and family leave credits for any amounts not covered by the reduction in deposits. The advanced payments will be issued by paper check to employers.

Employee Retention Credit

Eligible employers can claim the employee retention credit, a refundable tax credit equal to 50 percent of up to $10,000 in qualified wages (including health plan expenses), paid after March 12, 2020 and before January 1, 2021.  Eligible employers are those businesses with operations that have been partially or fully suspended due to governmental orders due to COVID-19, or businesses that have a significant decline in gross receipts compared to 2019.

The refundable credit is capped at $5,000 per employee and applies against certain employment taxes on wages paid to all employees.  Eligible employers can reduce federal employment tax deposits in anticipation of the credit.  They can also request an advance of the employee retention credit for any amounts not covered by the reduction in deposits. The advanced payments will be issued by paper check to employers.

Need more information on how to apply? Click here

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.

Correction/Update to an earlier Tax Tip of the Week regarding municipal income taxes.  A local Income Tax Administrator was kind enough to send the below information to us as follows:

“H.B. 197 sets aside 718.011 of the Ohio Revised Code, stating:

…during the period of the emergency declared by Executive Order 2020-01D, issued on March 9, 2020, and for thirty days after the conclusion of that period, any day on which an employee performs personal services at a location, including the employee’s home, to which the employee is required to report for employment duties because of the declaration shall be deemed to be a day performing personal services at the employee’s principal place of work.

That said, employees who were sent home to work during the pandemic are still considered to be working at their principal place of work and not their city of residence.  That’s why employees should not have had a change in their municipal withholding from pre-pandemic times.  There are those that question the constitutionality of the executive order, so I’m sure that the State or others will address this at a later time.  Unfortunately, due to ORC Section 718, municipalities cannot pass legislation to override H.B. 197 or any section of 718.”

– until next week.

-Mark

Working Remotely? Watch Out for Unintended Tax Consequences! July 1, 2020

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : COVID, COVID-19, tax changes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Rules, Tax Tip, Taxes, Taxes, Uncategorized , add a comment

  Typically, you are taxed by the location of your physical presence (this is changing now to some degree to better deal with the complexities of the internet).  For example, Ohio cities tax you first where you work and then next where you live.  That is to say that you won’t owe any city tax for your residence city if your workplace is located in a city whose tax rate is equal to or higher than the city where you live.  This is true only if your resident city allows a full tax credit for the city taxes paid where you work and its tax rate is equal to or less than your work city.  Not too long ago, almost all cities allowed a full credit for the tax paid to the city where you are employed.  But this full tax offset is becoming more of a rarity the last few years as city budgets continue to become more and more strained. These deficit situations for state and local governments won’t become any better with the current pandemic placing even greater demands on city finances.  

    For all intents and purposes, your state income tax model differs little from that of the cities.  It is not unlikely to find yourself double taxed by cities AND states.

    Now having attempted to make a long story short and leaving out the numerous tax exceptions for the general tax rules for cities and states as mentioned above; and, all the while assuming you have a good handle on how your state and local taxes should currently be filed, let’s throw you a curve ball.  Let’s presume you are now working from home.  And, your home is in a different city or even a different state than where you work.  What if you are working half the week at home and the rest of the week at work?  All of a sudden, a tax nightmare has developed.  

    I wish I had the silver bullet to answer my own questions.  Perhaps, the cities and states will pass legislation to overcome these added complexities resulting from the pandemic.  But I doubt it.  In the meantime, we better become accustomed to even more tax correspondence from cities and states.  None of them are going to roll-over in their efforts to collect all the monies that they can.  It is always a mystery to me why they would spend megabucks and create huge amounts of ill will in the community all in an effort to collect a nominal amount of taxes.  But some things never change.

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 | New Tough Tax Rules for Business Losses March 4, 2020

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : 2019 Taxes, Business consulting, Deductions, General, tax changes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Preparation, Tax Rules, Tax Tip, Taxes, Uncategorized , add a comment

March 4, 2020

Some businesses are very profitable, others are not – many businesses exist somewhere in the middle. Until recently, a Net Operating Loss (NOL) could be carried back two (2) years and the remainder forward for twenty (20) years (all within various limitations). Things have changed. For the vast majority of businesses, NOLs may only be carried forward without a sunset provision. BUT and there always is a BUT with the tax law – NOLs may not exceed certain amounts and percentages.  This is explained in greater detail below:
                                -Mark Bradstreet

Okay, you’re not in business to lose money but it can happen from time to time. The tax law has new rules in store for you when it comes to writing off business losses in 2018 and beyond. These rules make it more difficult to use losses to save taxes.

Net operating loss

Essentially, a net operating loss arises when the amount of a current business loss is greater than what can be used in the current year (i.e., greater than taxable income), and it becomes a net operating loss (NOL). (Technical rules apply to make an NOL more complicated than this.)

When and how the NOL is used has been changed by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

•    NOLs arising prior to 2018. Generally these NOLs can be carried back for 2 years (there are some special rules for certain situations and an option to waive the carry-back) and forward for up to 20 years. The NOLs can offset up to 100% of taxable income.
•    NOLs arising in 2018 and beyond. No carry-back is allowed (other than for certain farming losses and losses of property and casualty insurance companies), but there’s an unlimited carry-forward. However, the NOL can only offset up to 80% of taxable income.

Record-keeping. If you have a carry-forward of a pre-2018 NOL, be sure to keep track of it separately from newer ones so you can use it as a 100% offset going forward. NOLs are taken into account in the order in which they are generated, so that old NOLs are used before newer ones. This rule hasn’t changed.

Non-corporate excess business losses

If you own a pass-through entity—sole proprietorship, partnership, S corporation, or limited liability company—the rules for writing off your losses have changed dramatically. Until now, if you had $1 million in revenue and $1.6 million in expenses, the $600,000 loss passed through to you would be deductible on your return (limited by your basis in the business).

Now there’s an important change in the treatment of losses. Instead of being currently deductible, excess business losses are characterized as net operating losses that must be carried forward.

What is a non-corporate excess business loss?This is the excess of business deductions for the year over the sum of (1) gross income or gain from the business, plus (2) $250,000 for singles or $500,000 for joint filers (with these dollar amounts adjusted for inflation after 2018).

So continuing the example I started earlier, under the new loss limit, instead deducting $600,000 in 2018, assuming you’re single, you’d only be able to write off $350,000 ($1.6 million – [$1 million + $250,000]). The balance of the loss–$250,000—is treated as a net operating loss that becomes deductible in 2019 to the extent permissible (explained earlier).

For owners of partnerships and S corporations, the limit is applied at the owner level, based on the owner’s distributive share of business income and expenses.

The excess business loss limit applies after applying the passive activity loss limit. The excess business loss limit is effective from 2018 through 2025.

Conclusion

To sum it up, when you’re doing well, the government is your partner by sharing in your good fortune via taxes. But when you aren’t doing well, the government doesn’t want to know you anymore. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act rewards profitable businesses by lowering the taxes to be paid on profits. But this same law essentially penalizes unprofitable businesses by imposing limits on utilizing losses. In the past, for example, if you had an NOL, you could carry it back to generate an immediate cash refund that could be ploughed into the business. In effect, a loss could be turned into a gain. No longer.

Perhaps the lesson here is: Be profitable. Take the steps you need to ensure this—cut expenses, raise prices, etc. And work with your tax advisor to see what other measures can be used to keep you in the black.

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.

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 to do 1031 Exchanges to Defer Taxes February 5, 2020

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

Like-kind tax free exchanges aka Internal Revenue Code Section 1031 are one of the most valuable yet underutilized sections of the IRC (the last major tax law change eliminated 1031 exchanges for anything but real estate).  We have prepared thousands of individual income tax returns and only a very small fraction of those with commercial and residential real estate sales use Section 1031.  Why?  I speculate lack of 1031 education is the primary culprit.  Also, the people that are aware simply don’t wish to tackle its complexities.  Its rules are unforgiving and the deadlines are engraved in stone as the accompanying article discusses.  However, it benefits may be significant.

                                    -Mark Bradstreet 

The Definition of Like-Kind Properties Has Changed Over the Years

The time-worn saying “Nothing is certain but death and taxes” is only half true for a savvy American taxpayer who is planning the sale of an investment or business property. Since capital gains tax on your profits could run as high as 15 percent to 30 percent when state and federal taxes are combined, why not take the necessary steps to avoid this loss? A big tax bite could wipe out money you could use for future investments.

Enter the 1031 tax-deferred exchange. To many taxpayers, this is like money dropping from the skies.

1031 Exchanges Defer Taxes

The 1031 Exchange has been cited as the most powerful wealth-building tool still available to taxpayers. It has been a major part of the success strategy of countless financial wizards and real estate gurus. Taking its name from Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code, a tax-deferred exchange allows a taxpayer to sell income, investment or business property and replace it with a like-kind property.

Capital gains on the sale of this property are deferred or postponed as long as the IRS rules are meticulously followed. It is a wise tax and investment strategy as well as an estate planning tool. In theory, an investor could continue deferring capital gains on investment property until death, potentially avoiding them all together.

1984 Legislation Changed Some Aspects

In the early days of “like-kind exchanges,” the term was taken quite literally and often posed difficulties. For instance, if you owned a three-story brick apartment building that you wanted to sell through a 1031 exchange, you would have to find another three-story brick apartment building whose owner wanted to swap. Then the two of you would meet, and the exchange would take place.

3 Saving Habits to Steal and 3 to Skip

In the past, there were no time constraints on the exchange. The IRS demanded stricter controls on the process, which resulted in Congress passing in 1984 Section 1031(a). This legislation limited deferred exchanges, further defined “like-kind” property and established a timetable for completing the exchange.

Qualifying

Real estate property held for business use or investment qualifies for a 1031 Exchange. A personal residence does not qualify and, generally, a fix-and-flip property also doesn’t qualify because it fits into the category of property being held for sale. Vacation or second homes, which are not held as rentals do not qualify for 1031 treatment; however, there is a usage test under Paragraph 280 of the tax code that may apply to those properties. A tax expert should be consulted in this case.

Land, which is under development, and property purchased for resale do not qualify for tax-deferred treatment. Stocks, bonds, notes, inventory property, and a beneficial interest in a partnership are not considered “like-kind” property for exchange purposes.

To qualify as a 1031 exchange today, the transaction must take the form of an “exchange” rather than just a sale of one property with the subsequent purchase of another. First, the property being sold and the new replacement property must both be held for investment purposes or for productive use in a trade or a business. They must be “like-kind” properties.

The following types of real estate swaps fit the requirement for a qualified exchange of “like-kind” property:

•    An office in exchange for a shopping center
•    A shopping center in exchange for land
•    Land in exchange for an industrial building
•    An apartment building in exchange for an industrial building
•    A single family rental in exchange for a tenants in common (TIC) property

Today, you could exchange that brick apartment building for raw land, a warehouse, or a small office building. However, there are strict time constraints which must be met, or the 1031 Exchange will not be allowed, and tax consequences will be imposed.

Prior to 1984, virtually all exchanges were done simultaneously with the closing and transfer of the sold property (Relinquished Property), and the purchase of the new real estate (Replacement Property). In addition to the problems encountered when trying to finding a suitable property, there were difficulties with the simultaneous transfer of titles as well as funds. Not so today.

The delayed 1031 Exchange avoids those pre-1984 problems, but stricter deadlines are now imposed. A taxpayer who wants to complete an exchange, lists and markets property in the usual manner. When a buyer steps forward, and the purchase contract is executed, the seller enters into an exchange agreement with a qualified intermediary who, in turn, become the substitute seller. The exchange agreement usually calls for an assignment of the seller’s contract to the Intermediary. The closing takes place and, because the seller cannot touch the money, the Intermediary receives the proceeds due to the seller.

Exchanges Carry Time Restrictions

At that point, the first timing restriction, the 45-day rule for Identification, begins. The taxpayer must either close on or identify in writing a potential Replacement Property within 45 days from the closing and transfer of the original property. The time period is not negotiable, includes weekends and holidays, and the IRS will not make exceptions. If you exceed the time limit, your entire exchange can be disqualified, and taxes are sure to follow.

Types of Replacement Properties to Identify:

1.    Three properties without regard to their fair market value.
2.    Any number of properties as long as their aggregate fair market value at the end of the identification period does not exceed 200 percent of the aggregate fair market value of the relinquished property as of the transfer date.
3.    If the three-property rule and the 200 percent rule is exceeded, the exchange will not fail if the taxpayer purchases 95 percent of the aggregate fair market value of all identified properties.

What Is Boot?

Realistically, most investors follow the three-property rule so they can complete due diligence and select the one that works best for them that will close. Generally, the goal is to trade up to avoid the transfer of “boot” and keep the exchange tax-free.

“Boot” is the money or fair market value of any additional property received by the taxpayer through the exchange. Money includes all cash equivalents, debts, liabilities to which the exchanged property is subject. It is “non-like-kind” property, and the rules governing it during the exchange are complex. Suffice it to say, without expert advice, receiving “boot” can result in taxes.

Subject to the 180-Day Rule

Once a replacement property is selected, the taxpayer has 180 days from the date the Relinquished Property was transferred to the buyer to close on the new Replacement Property. However, if the due date on the investor’s tax return, with any extensions, for the tax year in which the Relinquished Property was sold is earlier than the 180-day period, then the exchange must be completed by that earlier date. Remember, a portion of this period has already been used during the Identification Period. There are no extensions and no exceptions to this rule, so it is advisable to schedule the closing prior to the deadline.

Since the law requires that the taxpayer not touch the proceeds from the first transaction, the Qualified Intermediary acquires the Replacement Property from the seller at closing and after the transaction is completed, then transfers it to the taxpayer.

Are Not for Do-It-Yourself Investors

It is a basic description of how a successful 1031 Exchange works. Depending upon the taxpayer’s situation, the type of property relinquished, and the characteristics of the Replacement Property, other aspects of the Exchange may be involved. Its completion may become complex, and experts should always be consulted. This is no task for a “do it yourself” investor.

Using the power of the 1031 Exchange to build and preserve wealth and assets, generate cash flow from investments, restructure, diversify and consolidate real estate holdings is the right of every owner of investment property in the United States. American taxpayers should never have to pay capital gains taxes on the sale of their investment property if they intend to reinvest those proceeds in more investment property.

Today’s author – Elizabeth Weintraub

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.

Ohio Income Tax Updates January 29, 2020

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

A filing season approaches, we are often focused on the federal changes to tax law, but one shouldn’t fail to keep their eyes and ears open to the state changes.  For those of us in Ohio, the 2019 tax law changes were fairly mild.  Below are a few of the key changes to Ohio tax law for the 2019 tax year.

Change in Tax Brackets:

Following the example of the Federal government, Ohio has decreased the number of tax brackets and overall tax rates which are applicable to the 2019 tax year.  The change in rates are displayed below:

Ohio Earned Income Credit:

The Ohio Earned Income Credit (EIC) was also expanded and simplified for 2019.  Historically, the credit was calculated utilizing 10% of the Federal EIC, and possibly subject to limitations based on income.  For the 2019 tax year, the credit is simply 30% of the Federal EIC.

Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI):

The 2019 tax law introduces a new term for purposes of means testing.  Means testing is applied to determine exemption amounts and qualifications for certain credits.  Historically, Ohio Adjusted Gross Income (OAGI) was used in means testing.  The primary difference with this new metric is that income which would have been excluded under Ohio’s generous Business Income Deduction is now included for means testing.  Note, that this doesn’t mean that the business income is now taxable.  It simply means that this income will be considered when determining exemptions and credit qualifications.

In the ever-changing world of taxes, the changes take place not only on the Federal level, but on the state, and even local as well.  We strive to stay abreast of these changes, and help you make the best tax-conscious decisions. 

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 – Josh Campbell

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.