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

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

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

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

                                -Mark Bradstreet 

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

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

Here we go:

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

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

Runner-ups:

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

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

Runner-ups:

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

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

Runner-up:

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

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

Runner-ups:

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

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

Runner-ups:

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

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

Runner-ups:

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

Details (and good communication) matter.

Runner-ups:

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

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

Runner-ups:

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

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

Runner-ups:

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

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

Runner-ups:

11. “Do what you say you’ll do!”

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

Runner-ups:

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

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

Runner-ups:

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

Credit Given to:  Daniel Krewson. 

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

This week’s author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.

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

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

Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–until next week

Tax Tip of the Week | IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2020 December 18, 2019

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

Previously, the IRS used inflation measured by the consumer price index for urban consumers, known as the CPI-U. That index tracks the cost of certain goods and services the typical household buys, from bread and soap to the cost of utilities.

Under tax reform, inflation is measured using something called Chained CPI. With Chained CPI, the people measuring inflation assume buyers have choices when they spend money, and they shift from one product to another when the price of that product goes up. For example, if the price of coffee beans increases too much, you may start drinking tea. If you don’t like tea as well as coffee, you may argue that you are worse off now because you can’t afford your favorite beverage. But to the economists measuring Chained CPI, you found a cheaper replacement, and that’s what matters.

Using Chained CPI, tax benefits and limitations don’t rise as quickly or as high as they would under the old measurement system. 

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today announced the tax year 2020 annual inflation adjustments for more than 60 tax provisions, including the tax rate schedules and other tax changes. Revenue Procedure 2019-44 provides details about these annual adjustments.

The tax law change covered in the revenue procedure was added by the Taxpayer First Act of 2019, which increased the failure to file penalty to $330 for returns due after the end of 2019. The new penalty will be adjusted for inflation beginning with tax year 2021.

The tax year 2020 adjustments generally are used on tax returns filed in 2021.

The tax items for tax year 2020 of greatest interest to most taxpayers include the following dollar amounts:

•    The standard deduction for married filing jointly rises to $24,800 for tax year 2020, up $400 from the prior year. For single taxpayers and married individuals filing separately, the standard deduction rises to $12,400 in for 2020, up $200, and for heads of households, the standard deduction will be $18,650 for tax year 2020, up $300.

•    The personal exemption for tax year 2020 remains at 0, as it was for 2019, this elimination of the personal exemption was a provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

•    Marginal Rates: For tax year 2020, the top tax rate remains 37% for individual single taxpayers with incomes greater than $518,400 ($622,050 for married couples filing jointly). The other rates are:
o    35%, for incomes over $207,350 ($414,700 for married couples filing jointly);
o    32% for incomes over $163,300 ($326,600 for married couples filing jointly);
o    24% for incomes over $85,525 ($171,050 for married couples filing jointly);
o    22% for incomes over $40,125 ($80,250 for married couples filing jointly);
o    12% for incomes over $9,875 ($19,750 for married couples filing jointly).
Note:  The lowest rate is 10% for incomes of single individuals with incomes of $9,875 or less ($19,750 for married couples filing jointly).

•    For 2020, as in 2019 and 2018, there is no limitation on itemized deductions, as that limitation was eliminated by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

•    The Alternative Minimum Tax exemption amount for tax year 2020 is $72,900 and begins to phase out at $518,400 ($113,400 for married couples filing jointly for whom the exemption begins to phase out at $1,036,800).The 2019 exemption amount was $71,700 and began to phase out at $510,300 ($111,700, for married couples filing jointly for whom the exemption began to phase out at $1,020,600).

•    The tax year 2020 maximum Earned Income Credit amount is $6,660 for qualifying taxpayers who have three or more qualifying children, up from a total of $6,557 for tax year 2019. The revenue procedure contains a table providing maximum credit amounts for other categories, income thresholds and phase-outs.

•    For tax year 2020, the monthly limitation for the qualified transportation fringe benefit is $270, as is the monthly limitation for qualified parking, up from $265 for tax year 2019.

•    For the taxable years beginning in 2020, the dollar limitation for employee salary reductions for contributions to health flexible spending arrangements is $2,750, up $50 from the limit for 2019.

•    For tax year 2020, participants who have self-only coverage in a Medical Savings Account, the plan must have an annual deductible that is not less than $2,350, the same as for tax year 2019; but not more than $3,550, an increase of $50 from tax year 2019. For self-only coverage, the maximum out-of-pocket expense amount is $4,750, up $100 from 2019. For tax year 2020, participants with family coverage, the floor for the annual deductible is $4,750, up from $4,650 in 2019; however, the deductible cannot be more than $7,100, up $100 from the limit for tax year 2019. For family coverage, the out-of-pocket expense limit is $8,650 for tax year 2020, an increase of $100 from tax year 2019.

•    For tax year 2020, the adjusted gross income amount used by joint filers to determine the reduction in the Lifetime Learning Credit is $118,000, up from $116,000 for tax year 2019.

•    For tax year 2020, the foreign earned income exclusion is $107,600 up from $105,900 for tax year 2019.

•    Estates of decedents who die during 2020 have a basic exclusion amount of $11,580,000, up from a total of $11,400,000 for estates of decedents who died in 2019.

•    The annual exclusion for gifts is $15,000 for calendar year 2020, as it was for calendar year 2019.

•    The maximum credit allowed for adoptions for tax year 2020 is the amount of qualified adoption expenses up to $14,300, up from $14,080 for 2019.

Credit Given to:  Sally Herigstad. Posted on the Internal Revenue Service Website.

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 | Make These 2019 Tax Moves Now – Before It’s Too Late December 4, 2019

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

Although it has been two (2) years now since the sweeping tax law changes of 2017, many taxpayers are still missing out on many of the new available tax planning opportunities. Eleven (11) such tax savings strategies follow as outlined in the following article by Laura Saunders in the WSJ weekend edition of November 2-3, 2019. I will put my own “spin” on some of the bigger opportunities that many business owners are either unaware of or not optimizing.

(1)  Some of the higher deduction retirement plans MUST be set up by year end (December 31, 2019). Too often, I will meet with a taxpayer dropping off their tax detail who mentions their desire of contributing to a Solo 401(k) plan or a profit-sharing plan, etc. Sure, that is fine ONLY IF the plan was established prior to year-end even though the plan contributions are made the following year.

(2)  We see many retired taxpayers who may have low or negative taxable income after their standard or itemized deductions BUT have mega bucks in retirement accounts.  In these situations, a retirement plan distribution could have been taken federally tax free up to the amount of negative taxable income (provided they are over 59 ½). We meet with many retirees to make this calculation near the end of each year.

(3)  Too many taxpayers make conventional charitable contributions ignoring the better options of using IRAs or appreciated stock. These options create an opportunity of potentially “doubling” the tax value of this conventional tax deduction by deducting the full market value without the appreciation ever being taxed. This is truly the best of both worlds which is rare indeed in the tax world.

(4)  Maximizing the 199A pass-through deduction aka the 20% business income deduction or QBID. Many of the factors in this calculation may be optimized to maximize this deduction e.g. salaries and guaranteed payments.  

The article by Ms. Saunders follows.

                           –    Mark Bradstreet

It’s Year Two following the massive tax overhaul of 2017. For Americans who are still getting used to the new rules, it’s important to sort things out before the year ends.

“People are confused about their withholding and refunds, and whether they need to save receipts to prove itemized deductions—plus other things,” says Terry Durkin, an enrolled agent in Burlington, Mass., who prepares over 300 tax returns a year.

Most filers must pay 90% of their income and self-employment taxes by year-end or soon after, or else face penalties. The IRS forgave these penalties for many people for 2018, but it won’t for 2019.

There are few ways to cut a 2019 tax bill after Dec. 31, so now is the time to make moves that will lower your tax bill in April.

> Check your withholding. At the top of Ms. Durkin’s, and many tax advisers’, to-do list for clients: Check your withholding or estimated taxes. The overhaul, followed by automatic changes to paycheck withholding in 2018, brought bad refund surprises to many filers last spring.

As it turned out, overall refunds changed little. For both 2017 and 2018, about three-quarters of filers received refunds, which averaged $2,800. But these results conceal wide variations. For 13 million filers earning between $100,000 and $250,000, average 2018 refunds dropped 11% compared with 2017, according to mid-July data from the Internal Revenue Service.

This shift got the attention of the IRS, which has since improved its withholding calculator. Employees and retirees can use it to find out what they owe under Uncle Sam’s pay-as-you-earn system and then fine-tune their refunds. Taxpayers who aren’t employees need to use complex worksheets in IRS Publication 505 or talk to a tax preparer.

But the law contains a boon for many employees. Usually they won’t owe penalties if they increase their withholding late in the year—even if it’s for a spouse’s self-employment income, according to an IRS spokesman.

> Make your payments. Those with income not covered by employer-paycheck withholding must usually make quarterly payments based on earnings for each period to avoid penalties. Are you behind on payments? The sooner a mistake is corrected, the less damage it does.

> Assess itemized deductions. As a result of the 2017 overhaul, more than 25 million taxpayers have switched to claiming the standard deduction rather than itemizing write-offs on Schedule A. The share of returns with Schedule A has dropped to about 10% from about 30%.

For 2019, the standard deduction is $12,200 for single filers and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly.

The most common itemized deductions are for state and local taxes (SALT), charitable donations and mortgage interest. Now that Congress has limited the SALT deduction to $10,000 per return both for single and married joint filers, it’s often easier for singles than couples to benefit from itemizing.

For example, a married couple who deducts the limit of $10,000 of SALT needs more than $14,400 of other deductions to benefit from itemizing for 2019, because their standard deduction is $24,400. But a single filer who deducts $10,000 of SALT only needs other write-offs totaling more than $2,200, because his standard deduction is $12,200.

Filers taking the standard deduction don’t need to save receipts to prove their write-offs.

> Check deadlines for retirement-savings contributions. There are significant differences.

Savers eligible for traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs for 2019 can open and fund them up to April 15, 2020.

SEP IRAs, for taxpayers with self-employment income, often have higher contribution limits and longer deadlines. Many taxpayers can set up and fund SEP IRAs until Oct. 15, 2020, if they extend the due date of their 2019 return.

Solo 401(k) plans are also for self-employment earnings and have contribution limits higher than those for traditional or Roth IRAs. For 2019, taxpayers can fund a solo 401(k) until Oct. 15, 2020, if they extend their due date. But the plans must usually be set up by Dec. 31, 2019, even if contributions come later.

> Take required payouts from retirement plans. Savers must often begin taking annual payouts from tax-sheltered retirement plans when they turn 70½. Congress is considering raising the beginning date to age 72, but it hasn’t yet.

The payout deadline is Dec. 31, 2019, for most people, and the withdrawal is based on the account value as of the last day of 2018. However, savers taking their first required payout this year have until April 1, 2020. Think twice before doing this, because it means taking two withdrawals in one year and perhaps moving to a higher tax bracket.

Currently no annual payouts are required from Roth IRAs, except for heirs who aren’t spouses.

Required payouts from 401(k) plans are somewhat different, although the deadline for beginning withdrawals is often age 70½. But many still-working employees who are 70½ and older needn’t take required withdrawals from their firm’s 401(k) if the plan allows that.

Also remember that 401(k) payouts can’t be aggregated as IRA payouts can. For example, a saver with four traditional IRAs can take the total required withdrawal from just one IRA. But if required payouts are due from two 401(k)s, the saver must take the required amount from each one.

> Strategize charitable giving, including from IRAs. The higher standard deduction poses a hurdle for donors who want a tax break. One way around it is to bunch charitable gifts by combining several years’ donations into one larger amount every few years that—together with other write-offs on Schedule A—is larger than the standard-deduction amount.

Such givers should also consider donor-advised funds. These popular accounts enable charitably minded taxpayers to make one or more gifts and take a deduction. The donor can then designate charitable recipients later, and meanwhile the assets can be invested and grow tax-free.

Do think twice before writing a check to a charity. A better move is often to give appreciated investments held in taxable accounts, such as stock shares. The donor gets an immediate deduction for the full market value, within certain limits, while not owing capital-gains tax on the growth.

Donors with traditional IRAs who are 70½ or older have another good option: They can donate up to $100,000 of IRA assets directly to one or more charities and have the gifts count toward their required payouts. This move can help lower Medicare premiums.

> Evaluate capital gains and losses. Check up on your positions in taxable accounts.
Investors can use realized capital losses to offset realized capital gains plus $3,000 of ordinary income such as wages, every year. Unused losses can carry forward for future use.

Sometimes it makes sense to sell an underwater investment at a loss before the end of the year, or to take gains if you have realized losses.

Also beware of increases in investment income that could trigger a 3.8% surtax. This levy takes effect at $250,000 of adjusted gross income for most married couples filing jointly and at $200,000 for most single filers.

> Take care with cryptocurrency. The IRS is cracking down on cryptocurrency tax compliance, and tax preparers will follow suit on 2019 returns. Now is the time to get ready by taking gains to use up losses and losses to offset gains. This may mean getting records in order, but crypto investors only have until Dec. 31 to make moves for 2019.

> Make 529 college-savings contributions. There’s no federal deduction for contributions to 529 college-savings plans, although some states allow a deduction on their returns. Contributions to these accounts can grow tax-free, and withdrawals used to pay eligible college expenses are also tax-free. Contributions for 2019 must be often made by Dec. 31, although a few states allow them by the following April 15, according to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Savingforcollege.com.

> Review eligibility for the 199A pass-through deduction. The tax overhaul added a 20% deduction for the net income of many businesses that pass through profits and losses to their owners’ tax returns, including rental real estate. This benefit is often curtailed for owners whose incomes exceed certain limits.

In 2019, the limits are taxable income of $160,725 for single filers and $321,400 for married couples filing jointly.

Business owners whose incomes will exceed these limits can sometimes get below the threshold by making tax-deductible donations to charity or contributing more to tax-deductible retirement plans.

> Be aware of the so-called Kiddie Tax. It’s a levy on the “unearned” income of young people as old as 23, above an annual exemption currently set at $2,200.

The 2017 overhaul changed the Kiddie Tax rates and brackets so that children of lower- and middle-income families often owe more now than under the prior law, so plan accordingly.

Grandparents, for example, might want to give stock shares that will help pay college tuition to the parents of a grandchild, not to the grandchild.

> Remember extenders. Congress hasn’t extended dozens of provisions that expired in 2017, 2018 and 2019 but it may. Among them are breaks for tuition, medical expenses, taxes on mortgage-debt forgiveness, and energy efficiency investments.

Stay tuned for coverage if Congress manages to move forward on these provisions.

Credit Given to: Laura Saunders.  You can write to Laura Saunders at laura.saunders@wsj.com.

Corrections & Amplifications

Contributions for 2019 to 529 college-savings plans must often be made by Dec. 31, although a few states allow them as late as the following April 15. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the deadline was Dec. 31 for all states. (Nov. 1, 2019)

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

This Week’s Author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | Should You Gift Land (or Anything Else) in 2019? November 20, 2019

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

Our current lifetime estate and gift exemption is currently $11.4 million per person (indexed for inflation) through 2025. In other words, you may gift or have an estate of that value without any gift or estate tax. And, your spouse also has the same $11.4 million exemption. So, each couple has a combined total exemption of $22.8 million per couple. This current lifetime exclusion has never been higher. But as the old saying goes – nothing is forever. The House has proposed a new bill to carve 2 years from the 2025 sunset provision. Some of the Presidential candidates propose ending this $11.4 million exemption even sooner than 2023 as proposed by the House.

Considering the current law, pending tax proposals and campaign trail promises, one may make a good argument, that 2019 may be as good of a year as ever to consider making a gift. Please remember that you may make an annual gift of up to $15 thousand a person(s) without it counting against your lifetime exclusion of $11.4 million and your spouse may likewise do the same.

                                     –    Mark Bradstreet

“Tax reform doubled the lifetime estate and gift exemption for 2018 through 2025. This means in 2019, you can gift during your lifetime or have assets in your estate of $11.4 million and not owe any estate or gift tax. Your spouse has the same amount. However, many states continue to assess an estate tax. Be sure to check on your state’s rules (Note: currently Ohio does not have an estate tax.)

This means farm couples worth $30 million or more won‘t owe any estate or gift tax. Discounts of around 30% (or more) reduce the value of land (or other assets) put into a limited liability company (LLC) or another type of entity. Gifts during your lifetime will shrink the amount subject to an estate tax.

Understand The Numbers

For example, mom and dad have farmland and other assets worth $30 million. They place the land into an LLC with a gross value of $20 million. This qualifies for a 35% discount ($7 million), dropping the estate valuation to $13 million. This drops their taxable estate to $23 million, which is about equal to their combined lifetime exemption amounts.

However, there is a chance the lifetime exemption will go back to the old numbers (or even less). The House has proposed a new bill that will make the exemption revert to the old law two years earlier. Some Presidential candidates propose making it even sooner or perhaps reducing it even lower (some would like to see it go to $3.5 million).

Let’s look at our previous example. If the exemption amount reverts to the old numbers, the heirs would face an estate tax liability of about $5 million. But if they make a gift of about $12 million now, no estate tax would be due.

Now might be the time to consider gifting some of your farmland to your kids, grandkids or into some type of trust. We normally like to have grain, equipment and other assets go through an estate so we can get a step-up in basis and a new deduction for the heirs.

However, farmland is not allowed to be depreciated. If it will be in the family for multiple generations, a step-up does not create any value anyway.

If your net worth is more than $10 million, now is a good time to discuss this with your estate tax planner. If you wait and the rules change, you could cost your heirs a lot of money.

Gifting Assets is Powerful

Remember you and your spouse can give $15,000 each year to as many people as you’d like in the form of gifts (not a total of $15,000 each year). This does not eat into your lifetime exemption. As a result, it is a smart strategy to take advantage of gifting each year.

For instance, if mom and dad have five kids, each married, they can give $150,000 total (including spouses, or children and spouses) without filing a gift tax return or eating into their lifetime exemption amount.

Credit is given to Paul Neiffer. This article was published in the Farm Journal article in September, 2019.  Paul gives some great examples and further commentary on this topic.  

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 C. Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | The Tax Landmines of Lending to Family Members November 6, 2019

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

People often lend money to family members, but few think about the IRS when making the “loan”.  In the article that follows, Bob Carlson, Senior Contributor to Forbes, discusses the procedures and consequences one should consider before getting out the checkbook. If you are in this situation as a lender, or as a borrower, the following article does a great job of explaining the “rules” that you need to consider.

                                     –    Norman S. Hicks

Many people are happy to lend money to their loved ones, especially to children and grandchildren. But before stroking the check, review the tax rules. The tax consequences vary greatly depending on the terms of the loan. A small change in the terms can mean a big difference in taxes and penalty. 

Too often, family loans are informal arrangements. They don’t carry an interest rate or have a payment schedule. They essentially are demand notes. Payment isn’t due until the lending parent or grandparent demands it, and that’s not likely to happen unless the lender’s financial situation changes adversely. 

That runs afoul of the tax rules. In a family loan, when there is no interest rate or a rate below the IRS-determined minimum rate, the interest that isn’t charged is assumed to be income to the parent from the child. In other words, there is imputed interest income or phantom income. The parent is to report interest income at the IRS-determined minimum rate as gross income, though no cash is received. The borrower might be able to deduct the same amount if they qualify for the mortgage interest deduction. 

In addition, the lending parent or grandparent is assumed to make a gift of the imputed interest to the borrowing child or grandchild. In most cases, the annual gift tax exclusion is more than sufficient to prevent the gift from having any tax consequences. In 2019, a person can make gifts up to $15,000 per person with no gift tax consequences under the annual gift tax exclusion. A married couple can give up to $30,000 jointly.

To avoid these tax consequences, there should be a written loan agreement that states interest will be charged that is at least the minimum interest rate determined by the IRS for the month the agreement was signed. You can find the minimum rate for the month by searching the Internet for “applicable federal rate” for the month the loan agreement was made. The rate you use will depend on whether the loan is short-term, mid-term, or long-term and on whether interest compounds monthly, quarterly, semiannually, or annually.

The applicable federal rate is based on the U.S. Treasury’s borrowing rate for the month. That means it’s a low rate and is likely to be a lower rate than the child or grandchild could obtain from an independent lender. 

It’s a good idea for the borrower to make at least interest payments on a regular basis. Otherwise, the IRS could argue that there wasn’t a real loan and the entire transaction was a gift.

There are two important exceptions to the imputed interest rules.

A loan of $10,000 or less is exempt. Make a relatively small loan and the IRS doesn’t want to bother with it.

The second exception applies to loans of $100,000 or less. The imputed income rules apply, but the lending parent or grandparent can report imputed interest at the lower of the applicable federal rate or the borrower’s net investment income for the year. If the borrower doesn’t have much investment income, the exception can significantly reduce the amount of imputed income that’s reported.

Suppose Hi Profits, son of Max and Rosie Profits, wants to purchase a home and needs help with the down payment. Max and Rosie lend $100,000 to Hi. They charge 3.22% interest on the loan, which was the applicable federal rate in July 2019 for a long-term loan on which the interest is compounded semiannually. 

If Hi Profits doesn’t make interest payments, Max and Rosie will have imputed income of $3,220 each year that must be included in their gross income. In addition, they will be treated as making a gift to Hi of $3,220 each year. As long as they don’t make other gifts to Hi that put them over the annual gift tax exclusion amount ($30,000 on joint gifts by a married couple), there won’t be any gift tax consequences.

Hi can have the loan recorded as a second mortgage against the property. That might enable him to deduct the imputed interest on his income tax return, though he made no cash payments.

Max and Rosie have two costs to the loan. The first cost is the investment income they could have earned on the $100,000. 

The other cost is the income taxes they’ll owe on the imputed interest income. 

To avoid tax problems with a loan to a family member, be sure there’s a written loan agreement stating the amount of the loan, the interest rate, and the repayment terms. The interest rate should be at least the applicable federal rate for the month the loan is made. Simple loan agreement forms can be found on the Internet.

If the loan calls for regular payment of interest, or interest and principal, those payments should be made and should be documented. The more you make the transaction look like a real loan, the less likely it is the IRS will try to tax it as something else, such as a gift. 

A written loan agreement also can prevent any misunderstandings between the borrower and your estate or other family members after you’re gone. Your will should state whether you want the loan repaid to your estate, forgiven and deducted from the borrower’s inheritance or treated some other way.

Family loans are in wide use. Be sure you take the extra steps needed to avoid problems with the IRS.

Credit given to Bob Carlson, Senior Contributor to Forbes Media.  Bob is the editor of Retirement Watch, a monthly newsletter and web site he founded in 1990.  The above article can be found at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bobcarlson/2019/10/16/the-tax-landmines-of-lending-to-family-members/#30802295468f.

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

This Week’s Author – Norman S. Hicks, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | What Type of Entity Should I Be? October 30, 2019

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

Clients who are starting a business often ask us “What type of entity should I be?” While there is no definitive answer, this tax tip will cover some of the more common choices that can be made, and some of the concerns and tax treatment of those choices.

When an individual starts a business and is the only owner, if that person does nothing else tax-wise, the business is treated as a sole-proprietorship, meaning the taxpayer files a Schedule C as part of his or her annual Form 1040. If two or more people start a business, and do nothing else, the business is treated as a partnership, and files a partnership return, Form 1065.

Many clients are concerned about legal protection and will ask “Should we incorporate?” The answer, as it is with most tax questions, is “it depends”. While corporations arguably provide the most legal protection of any entity, they are also a bit more costly to form than other entities, and can be a bit more cumbersome to operate. According to Nellie Akalp, in an article published in the CPA Practice Advisor on October 10, 2019, she states “the law requires a corporation to:

•    Select a Board of Directors, meet with the board regularly and keep detailed meeting minutes.
•    Formally register the business by filing Articles of Incorporation with the state.
•    Obtain a Tax ID Number or Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.
•    Draft corporate bylaws.  Corporate bylaws are the official rules for operating and managing the company, proposed and voted on by the Board.”

Prior to 2018, corporate tax rates were graduated, the highest rate being 35%. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) enacted in late 2017, changed the corporate tax rate to a flat 21% which was good for some, but not all. Corporations making less than $50,000 per year actually got a tax increase. Previously, the tax rate for this bracket was 15% so these corporations now have to pay 6% more in federal tax. Another consideration is the “double-taxation” of money taken out by the owners. Dividends paid to shareholders are not deductible by the corporation, and are taxed to the recipient.

For those who don’t want the formalities and expense of forming and operating a C corporation, forming a Limited Liability Company (LLC) can be an attractive alternative.  We have had new clients tell us they are incorporated, which we usually verify on the Ohio Secretary of State’s website, only to find out they are really an LLC. An LLC is not an incorporated entity, but does provide a layer of protection. If a business is sued, and has not incorporated or become an LLC, the owner’s personal assets can be at risk. A single-member LLC, absent any other elections, files a Schedule C, just as a sole-proprietor does. A multi-member LLC, absent any elections, files a partnership return, Form 1065. If desired, a single-member or multi-member LLC can elect to be taxed as a corporation by filing IRS Form 8832, Entity Classification Election.

Another election that can be made by either an LLC, or a corporation, is the election to be taxed as an S Corporation. This is just a taxation election and doesn’t change the type of entity making the election. The election is made by filing Form 2553, Election by a Small Business Corporation. The title of this form is somewhat of a misnomer because it indicates that only a corporation can make the election. Not only can small corporations make the election, but so can LLC’s.

Dividends paid by an S corporation (normally called distributions when made by an S corporation) generally are not taxable to the recipients (unless there are basis issues), which avoids the double-taxation issue of C corporations. The net profits of an S corporation are not taxed at the corporate level, but instead are passed through to the owners, and are taxed on their individual returns, regardless of whether any distributions were made. And this net profit is not subject to self-employment tax (FICA taxes) as is Schedule C income and partnership income reported by an active individual. Not all of the S corporation’s profits can be taken as distributions however. The IRS requires owners who are active in the business to take a reasonable salary. The salary, of course, has FICA taxes withheld, and the company has to pay matching FICA taxes as with any employee.

According to Nellie Akalp, “To qualify for S-Corp status:

•    The business must be a U.S. corporation or LLC
•    It can maintain only one class of stock
•    It’s limited to 100 shareholders or less
•    Shareholders must be individuals, estates or certain qualified trusts
•    Each shareholder must consent in writing to the S Corporation election
•    Each shareholder must be a U.S. Citizen or permanent resident alien with a valid United States Social Security number
•    The business must have a tax year ending on December 31”

The TCJA provided for a new deduction beginning in 2018 called the Qualified Business Income Deduction. This deduction is available for most types of “pass-through” business income and is limited to 20% of qualified business income provided certain qualifications are met. Because it is for “pass-through” income, C corporations do not get any benefit. Most other types of business income do qualify, such as sole-proprietors, partnerships, LLC’s and S corporations. So this is yet another consideration when deciding on the type of entity a business should be.

As you can see, there are several types of entities and quite a bit to consider when making the entity choice. Hopefully this article helps to give you some perspective.

Credit given to Nellie Akalp for the excerpts taken from her article “Why Small Businesses May Want to Consider Electing S Corp Status” published in the CPA Practice Advisor on October 10, 2019.

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

This Week’s Author – Norman S Hicks, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of The Week | Did You Know All Ohio Businesses Must File An Annual Report of Unclaimed Funds? October 23, 2019

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

It’s that time of year again…

Time to report unclaimed funds! This one really gets business owners excited (sarcasm intended).

As stated by the Ohio Department of Commerce, “All businesses that are located and/or operate in the State of Ohio, or hold funds due to Ohio residents, are required to file an Annual Report of Unclaimed Funds.”

Unclaimed Funds Reports are due by November 1st.

The Ohio Treasury wants Ohioans to recover money that is rightfully theirs. Every year 200,000 Ohioans lose track of their funds. They either put money in financial institutions and forget about it, or simply cannot track it in their records.

What is the Division of Unclaimed Funds?

The Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of Unclaimed Funds exists to protect money lost by Ohioans in various financial institutions, find the people the money belongs to, and then returns it as quickly as possible. More than $1 billion currently is in the custody of the Division of Unclaimed Funds. The Ohio Treasury makes Ohioans aware of the Division of Unclaimed Funds, so that they get back money rightfully theirs. You can perform a search using the following link:

SEARCH UNCLAIMED FUNDS

What types of accounts qualify as unclaimed funds?

We have a document from the Ohio Department of Commerce that helps explain what qualifies as “unclaimed funds,” as well as how to report them, here:

 HOW TO FILE AN UNCLAIMED FUNDS REPORT

Even if you have no unclaimed funds to report, a negative report must be filed.

What happens if your Ohio-based company does not report?

According to the Ohio Department of Commerce:

“For failing to report unclaimed funds or underreporting unclaimed funds, the company may incur civil penalties of $100.00 per day. The company may also have to pay interest at a rate up to 1% per month on the balance of unclaimed funds due per Ohio Revised Code section 169.12.”

What is NAUPA?

The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) is a non-profit organization that maintains a national database, called Missing Money, to help people find unclaimed property.

MISSING MONEY

For additional assistance, contact the Ohio Department of Commerce’s Division of Unclaimed Funds at 1-877-644-6823.

Still struggling in determining how to file an Unclaimed Funds Report?

At Bradstreet & Associates and Bradstreet & Company CPAs, we’re here to help. If you need assistance filing your report, please call our Xenia office at 937-372-3504 or our Centerville office at 937-436-3133.

A complete information booklet on Reporting Unclaimed Funds is available here:
http://www.com.ohio.gov/documents/unfd_AnnualReportOfUnclaimedFunds.pdf

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 Co-Authors – Bobbie Haines & Linda Johannes, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | A Retirement Plan Too Often Ignored September 11, 2019

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

If your business fits the definition of an owner-only employee business then a Solo 401(k) retirement plan may be a great idea for you.  And, oh yeah, another caveat – you are not allowed to have any employees other than you and your spouse. If your sole proprietorship, partnership, S corporation or C corporation fits the necessary parameters then you may make contributions to a Solo 401(k) plan.

This type of retirement plan allows higher contribution amounts and more investment options than many other retirement plans. The Solo 401(k) even has ROTH options and its account holder may borrow against the plan assets. They are also inexpensive to setup and maintain. Even though created by Congress in 2001 – we still don’t see as many of these plans as I think we should.

If you think you may qualify for the Solo 401(k), please remember that this plan must be formed by year-end for the contributions to be deducted for that same year.

The below WSJ article by Jeff Brown was published on July 9, 2019 and contains additional details.

                                                                                                            -Mark Bradstreet

Millions of U.S. workers rely on employer-sponsored 401(k)s to save for retirement. But what about freelancers, sole proprietors and workers in the mushrooming gig economy, or people who want to leave the corporate cocoon and strike out on their own?

Financial advisers say that far from being left out in the cold, these workers have access to an often-overlooked retirement-savings vehicle that offers some distinct advantages: an “individual” or “solo” 401(k).

Available to self-employed people, as well as business owners and their spouses, solo 401(k)s allow participants to make contributions as both an employer and employee. That means individuals can sock away large sums that dramatically reduce income taxes, among other perks.

Although enrollment data is hard to come by, financial advisers say solo 401(k)s have been slow to get the respect they deserve since they were created by Congress in 2001. Many financial-services firms waited years to start offering the plans, and many business owners who could have them don’t know they exist.

“You’d be surprised how many people don’t know about solo 401(k)s, especially accountants,” says Sean Williams, wealth adviser with Sojourn Wealth Advisory in Timonium, Md.

Perks advisers like

Solo K’s, as some call them, allow participants to avoid the complex rules covering corporate 401(k)s. Not only do solo K’s permit virtually unlimited investing options, they allow participants to choose between making traditional tax-deductible contributions or after-tax Roth contributions. Some advisers prefer them over better-known options for people who work on their own, such as SEP-IRAs (simplified employee pension individual retirement arrangements) and Simples (savings incentive match plan for employees).

“Solo 401(k)s are better than the other options,” says Vincenzo Villamena, a certified public accountant with Online Taxman in New York, “because of the ability to contribute to a Roth and the higher contribution limits.”

Like corporate 401(k)s, the maximum contribution this year for solo K’s is $56,000, including up to $19,000 in pretax individual income, plus an employer contribution. (For people age 50 or older, the maximum is $62,000, due to a catch-up provision.) By comparison, Simples limit employee contributions to $13,000 this year ($16,000 for investors age 50 or over), and employer matches to 3% of compensation up to a maximum of $5,600. SEPs, meanwhile, limit annual employer contributions to $56,000 or 25% of income, whichever is less, and there is no employee contribution.

Contributions to solo K’s cannot exceed self-employment income, which is counted separately from any income earned by working for others.

According to Donald B. Cummings Jr., managing partner of Blue Haven Capital in Geneva, Ill., contributions can come from other sources if regular income from the business is needed to pay ordinary expenses. “Say a 50-plus-year-old business owner inherits $500,000 from a deceased relative. She now has access to better cash flow and can theoretically contribute 100% of her compensation” up to the limit, he says.

An investor also can move cash into a solo K from a taxable investment account, reducing taxable income and getting tax deferral on any future gains.

Opening one up typically takes only a few minutes of paperwork with a financial firm such as Vanguard Group, Fidelity Investments or Charles Schwab Corp. SCHW 1.03% Providers typically don’t require a minimum contribution to open an account, or minimum annual contributions.

Business owners who set up the solo plan as a traditional 401(k) get a tax deduction on contributions, tax deferral on gains and pay income tax on withdrawals after age 59½. (If they withdraw before 59½, they generally will pay both income tax and a penalty.) If they choose to go the Roth route, contributions are after taxes but qualified withdrawals are tax-free, which can be a plus for those who expect to be in a higher tax bracket later in life. And unlike ordinary Roth IRAs, which are available only to people with incomes below certain thresholds, anyone who opens a solo K can pick the Roth option. “The single largest benefit of a solo 401(k) is the ability to contribute Roth dollars,” says Brandon Renfro, a financial adviser and assistant finance professor at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas. “Since you are the employer in your solo 401(k), you can simply elect that option,” he says. “This is a huge benefit over the other types of self-employed plans.”

Another plus is that account holders can borrow against the assets in a solo 401(k), says Pedro M. Silva, wealth manger with Provo Financial Services in Shrewsbury, Mass. That isn’t allowed with alternatives such as SEPs.

“Business owners often write large checks, and having access to an extra $50,000 for emergencies or opportunities is a valuable feature of the plan,” Mr. Silva says.

Words of caution

A solo 401(k) must be set up by the end of the calendar year for contributions to be subtracted from that year’s taxable income. But, as with an IRA, money can be put in as late as the tax deadline the following April, or by an extension deadline.

Investors who want to change providers can transfer assets from one solo 401(k) to another with no tax bill, as long as the investments go directly from the first investment firm to the second. But if the assets go to the investor first there may be tax consequences, even if they are then sent to the new provider.

Business owners should be aware that the hiring of just a single employee aside from a spouse would require the plan to meet the tricky nondiscrimination test that applies to regular 401(k)s, says Stephanie Hammell, an investment adviser with LPL Financial in Irvine, Calif. That test is designed to make sure executives don’t get a better deal than employees.

Business owners in that situation might do better with a SEP or Simple plan, which don’t have the nondiscrimination hurdle, according to Dr. Renfro.

And as with all financial products, it pays to shop around for the best combination of investment offerings, fees and customer service, experts say.

“Set up your account with an investment provider that either doesn’t charge fees for the administration of the account, or charges very minimal fees,” says Natalie Taylor, an adviser in Santa Barbara, Calif. “Choose an investment provider that offers high-quality, low-cost investment options inside of the individual 401(k) account.”

Credit Given to:  Jeff Brown. This appeared in the July 9, 2019, print edition of the Wall Street Journal as ‘The ‘Solo’ 401(k) Is Often Overlooked.’ Mr. Brown is a writer in Livingston, Mont. 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 | A Need to Know on Capital Gains Taxes September 4, 2019

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

Generally, capital assets that are held in excess of one year and sold at a profit may be taxed at three (3) possible tax rates: (1) 0%, (2) 15% or (3) 20%. For most people, the rate used depends upon their filing status and the amount of their taxable income. Gains from the sale of capital assets not held for a year are taxed as ordinary income. If capital assets are sold at a loss – generally, only $3,000 ($1,500 married filing separate) may be deducted annually unless other capital gains are available as an offset.

Everyone thinks that Congress designed the zero-percent capital gain rate just for them. That thinking is only natural since so many reporters and so many politicians have over-hyped the catchy expression of “zero-percent rate.” The truth is VERY few taxpayers will ever be in position to take advantage of the zero-percent long-term capital gain rate. To do so, for most single and married couples filing jointly, their taxable income not including the capital gains must be less than $39,375 or $78,750, respectively. Remember your taxable income might include any Form W-2s, interest and dividend income, business and rental income etc. But, it also includes the capital gain itself. So, not a very big window exists for the possibility of qualifying for using the zero-percent rate. If your income other than capital gains, less your deductions exceeds these taxable income ceilings then the window not only shuts but disappears as though it never existed. This capital gain tax calculation is not made the same as the calculation of income taxes which are calculated using the incremental tax brackets. And, depending upon the amount of your regular taxable income not including the capital gains above and beyond the amounts of $39,375/$78,750 – you will then use either the 15% OR the 20% tax bracket for the capital gains rate. Don’t forget the “net investment income tax” of 3.8% which could be an additional tax along with your particular state income tax. Ohio taxes capital gains as ordinary income. Also, technically outside the tax world – various income levels may also affect the amount of your Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), Medicare insurance premiums and the amount of student loan repayments (if applicable).

More information and explanations follow in the article below by Tom Herman as published by the Wall Street Journal on Monday, June 17, 2019.

                            -Norm Hicks and Mark Bradstreet

By tax-law standards, the rules on capital-gains taxes may appear fairly straightforward, especially for taxpayers who qualify for a zero-percent rate.

But many other taxpayers, especially upper-income investors, “often find the tax law around capital gains is far more complicated than they had expected,” says Jordan Barry, a law professor and co-director of graduate tax programs at the University of San Diego Law School.

Here is an update on the brackets for this year and answers to questions readers may have on how to avoid turning capital gains into capital pains.

Who qualifies for the zero-percent rate?

For 2019, the zero rate applies to most singles with taxable income of up to $39,375, or married couples filing jointly with taxable income of up to $78,750, says Eric Smith, an IRS spokesman. Then comes a 15% rate, which applies to most singles up to $434,550 and joint filers up to $488,850. Then comes a top rate of 20%.

But don’t overlook a 3.8% surtax on “net investment income” for joint filers with modified adjusted gross income of more than $250,000 and most singles above $200,000. That can affect people in both the 15% and 20% brackets. For those in the 20% bracket, that effectively raises their top rate to 23.8%. “That 23.8% rate is the rate we use to plan around for high net-worth individuals,” says Steve Wittenberg, director of legacy planning at SEI Private Wealth Management.

There are several other twists, says Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Among them: a maximum of 28% on gains on art and collectibles. There are also special rates for certain depreciable real estate and investors with certain types of small-business stock. See IRS Publication 550 for details. There also are special rules when you sell your primary residence.

State and local taxes can be important, too, especially in high-tax areas such as New York City and California. This has become a much bigger issue in many places, thanks to the 2017 tax overhaul that included a limit on state and local tax deductions. As a result, many more filers are claiming the standard deduction and thus can’t deduct state and local taxes. But some states, including Florida, Texas, Nevada, Alaska and Washington, don’t have a state income tax. Check with your state revenue department to avoid nasty surprises.

How long do I typically have to hold stocks or bonds to qualify for favorable long-term capital-gains tax treatment?

More than one year, says Alison Flores, principal tax research analyst at The Tax Institute at H&R Block. Gains on securities held one year or less typically are considered short-term and taxed at the same rates as ordinary income, she says. The rules are “much more complex” for investors using options, futures and other sophisticated strategies, says Bob Gordon, president of Twenty-First Securities in New York City. IRS Publication 550 has details, but investors may need to consult a tax pro.

The holding-period rules can be important for philanthropists who itemize their deductions. Donating highly appreciated shares of stock and certain other investments held more than a year can be smart. Donors typically can deduct the market value and can avoid capital-gains taxes on the gain. But don’t donate stock that has declined in value since you purchased it. “Instead, sell it, create a capital loss you can use, and donate the proceeds” to charity, Mr. Gordon says. You can use capital losses to soak up capital gains. Investors whose losses exceed gains may deduct up to $3,000 of net losses ($1,500 for married taxpayers filing separately) from their wages and other ordinary income. Carry over additional losses into future years.

If you sell losers, pay attention to the “wash sale” rules, says Roger Young, senior financial planner at T. Rowe Price . A wash sale typically occurs when you sell stock or securities at a loss and buy the same investment, or something substantially identical, within 30 days before or after the sale. If so, you typically can’t deduct your loss for that year. (However, add the disallowed loss to the cost basis of the new stock.) Mr. Young also says some investors may benefit from “tax gain harvesting,” or selling securities for a long-term gain in a year when they don’t face capital-gains taxes.

While taxes are important, make sure investment decisions are based on solid investment factors, not just on taxes, says Yolanda Plaza-Charres, investment-solutions director at SEI Private Wealth Management. And don’t wait until December to start focusing on taxes.

“We believe in year-round tax management,” she says.

What if I sell my home for more than I paid for it?

Typically, joint filers can exclude from taxation as much as $500,000 of the gain ($250,000 for most singles). To qualify for the full exclusion, you typically must have owned your home—and lived in it as your primary residence—for at least two of the five years before the sale. But if you don’t pass those tests, you may qualify for a partial exclusion under certain circumstances, such as if you sold for health reasons, a job change or certain “unforeseen circumstances,” such as the death of your spouse. See IRS Publication 523 for details. When calculating your cost, don’t forget to include improvements, such as a new room or kitchen modernization.

Credit given to Tom Herman. This article appeared in the June 17, 2019, print edition as ‘A Need to Know on Capital-Gains Taxes.’ Mr. Herman is a writer in New York City. He was formerly The Wall Street Journal’s Tax Report columnist. Send comments and tax questions to taxquestions@wsj.com.

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

This Week’s Author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA & Norman S. Hicks, CPA

–until next week.