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Year End Tax Planning November 4, 2020

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

This year has been unlike any other in recent memory. Front and center, the COVID-19 pandemic has touched virtually every aspect of daily living and business activity in 2020. In addition to other financial consequences, the resulting fallout is likely to have a significant impact on year-end tax planning for both individuals and small businesses.

Furthermore, the national elections will affect tax issues for the rest of the year and well beyond.  

In response to the pandemic, Congress authorized economic stimulus payments and favorable business loans as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The CARES Act also features key changes relating to income and payroll taxes. This new law follows close on the heels of the massive Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017. The TCJA revised whole sections of the tax code and includes notable provisions for both individuals and businesses.

This is the time to paint your overall tax picture for 2020. By developing a year-end plan, you can maximize the tax breaks currently on the books and avoid potential pitfalls. 

For your convenience, this 2020 Year-End Tax Tip of the Week is divided into three sections:

* Individual Tax Planning

* Business Tax Planning

* Financial Tax Planning

Be aware that the concepts discussed in this letter are intended to provide only a general overview of year-end tax planning. It is recommended that you review your personal situation with a tax professional.

                                       – Mark Bradstreet 

INDIVIDUAL TAX PLANNING

Charitable Donations
Generally, itemizers can deduct amounts donated to qualified charitable organizations, as long as substantiation requirements are met. Be aware that the TCJA increased the annual deduction limit on monetary contributions from 50% of adjusted gross income (AGI) to 60% for 2018 through 2025. Even better, the CARES Act raises the threshold to 100% for 2020.

In addition, the CARES Act authorizes an above-the-line deduction of up to $300 for monetary contributions made by a non-itemizer in 2020 ($600 for a married couple). 

YEAR-END MOVE: In most cases, you should try to “bunch” charitable donations in the year they will do you the most tax good. For instance, if you will be itemizing in 2020, boost your gift giving at the end of the year. Conversely, if you expect to claim the standard deduction this year, you may decide to postpone contributions to 2021.

For donations of appreciated property that you have owned longer than one year, you can generally deduct an amount equal to the property’s fair market value (FMV). Otherwise, the deduction is typically limited to your initial cost. Also, other special rules may apply to gifts of property. Notably, the annual deduction for property donations generally cannot exceed 30% of AGI.

Note: If you donate to a charity by credit card in December—for example, you make an online contribution—you can still write off the donation on your 2020 return, even if you do not actually pay the credit card charge until January.

Family Income-Splitting
The time-tested technique of family income-splitting still works. Currently, the top ordinary income tax rate is 37%, while the rate for taxpayers in the lowest income tax bracket is only 10%. Thus, the tax rate differential between you and a low-taxed family member, such as a child or grandchild, could be as much as 27%—not even counting the 3.8% net investment income tax (more on this later).

YEAR-END MOVE: Shift income-producing property, such as securities, to family members in low tax brackets through direct gifts or trusts. This will lower the overall family tax bill. But remember that you are giving up control over those assets. In other words, you no longer have any legal claim to the property.

Also, be aware of potential complications caused by the “kiddie tax.” Generally, unearned income above $2,200 received in 2020 by a child younger than age 19, or a child who is a full-time student younger than age 24, is taxed at the top marginal tax rate of the child’s parents. (Recent legislation reverses a TCJA change on the tax treatment.) The kiddie tax could affect family income-splitting strategies at the end of the year

Note: If there is a danger that the kiddie tax could be triggered in 2020, some of the same income deferral strategies that are available to adults may be used for dependent children. For example, you may arrange for a child to postpone a large capital gain from a securities sale to 2021 or realize a capital loss at year-end to offset previous capital gains (see page 8). 

Higher Education Expenses
The tax law provides tax breaks to parents of children in college, subject to certain limits. This often includes a choice between one of two higher education credits and a tuition-and-fees deduction.

YEAR-END MOVE: When appropriate, pay qualified expenses for next semester by the end of this year. Generally, the costs will be eligible for a credit or deduction in 2020, even if the semester does not begin until 2021.

Typically, you can claim either the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) or the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC). The maximum AOTC of $2,500 is available for qualified expenses of each student, while the maximum $2,000 LLC is claimed on a per-family basis. Thus, the AOTC is usually preferable. Both credits are phased out based on modified adjusted gross income (MAGI).

Alternatively, you may claim the tuition-and-fees deduction, which is either $4,000 or $2,000 before it is phased out based on MAGI, as shown below

Filing StatusMAGI Tuition-and-Fees
Deduction
SingleUp to $65,000$4,000
Single$65,001 – $80,000$2,000
Married filing jointlyUp to $130,000$4,000
Married filing jointly$130,001 – $160,000$2,000

Note: The tuition-and-fees deduction, which has expired and been revived several times, is scheduled to end after 2020, but could be reinstated again by Congress.

Medical and Dental Expenses
Previously, taxpayers could only deduct unreimbursed medical and dental expenses above 10% of their AGI. But the TCJA temporarily lowered the threshold to 7.5% of AGI for 2017 and 2018. Subsequent legislation extended this tax break through 2020.

YEAR-END MOVE: When it is possible, accelerate non-emergency expenses into this year to benefit from the lower threshold. For instance, if you expect to itemize deductions and have already surpassed the 7.5%-of-AGI threshold this year, or you expect to clear it soon, accelerate elective expenses into 2020. Of course, the 7.5%-of-AGI threshold may be extended again, but you should maximize the tax deduction when you can.  

To qualify for a deduction, the expense must be for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease or payments for treatments affecting any structure or function of the body. But any costs for your general health or well-being are nondeductible.

Note: Don’t forget to count unreimbursed medical and dental expenses you have paid for your immediate family members, as well as other tax dependents such as an elderly parent or in-law. These extra expenses can push you over the 7.5%-of-AGI mark for the year or boost an existing deduction.

Estimated Tax Payments
The IRS requires you to pay federal income tax through any combination of quarterly installments and tax withholding. Otherwise, it may impose an “estimated tax” penalty.

YEAR-END MOVE: No estimated tax penalty is assessed if you meet one of these three “safe harbor” exceptions under the tax law.

1. Your annual payments equal at least 90% of your current liability;

2. Your annual payments equal at least 100% of the prior year’s tax liability (110% if your AGI for the prior year exceeded $150,000); or

3. You make installment payments under an “annualized income” method. This option may be available to taxpayers who receive most of their income during the holiday season.

Note: If you have received unemployment benefits in 2020—for example, if you lost your job due to the COVID-19 pandemic—remember that those benefits are subject to income tax. Factor this into your estimated tax calculations for the year.

Miscellaneous
* Watch out for the alternative minimum tax (AMT). The AMT applies if a separate complex calculation involving “tax preference items” and certain adjustments exceeds your regular tax liability. Have an assessment of your AMT liability made to determine your year-end approach. 

   * Make home improvements that qualify for mortgage interest deductions as acquisition debt. This includes loans made to substantially improve your principal residence or one other home. Note that the TCJA suspended deductions for home equity debt for 2018 through 2025.

   * With a Section 529 plan, you can set up an account for a child’s college education that can grow without any current tax erosion. Distributions used to pay for qualified expenses are exempt from tax. Beginning in 2018, the TCJA expanded the use of 529 plans for tuition payments of up to $10,000 a year for a child’s kindergarten, elementary or secondary school education.

   * Consider the tax impact of a divorce or separation. The TCJA repealed the deduction for alimony expenses for payers and the corresponding inclusion in income for recipients, for divorce and separation agreements executed after 2018. Note that deductions may still be available for pre-2019 agreements that are modified after 2018.

   * Meet student loan obligations. Under the CARES Act, payment on many student loans was suspended tax-free until September 30 and then through December 31 by an executive order. Barring any further developments, you must resume required payments in 2021. 

   * If you own property that was damaged in a federal disaster area in 2020, you may qualify for quick casualty loss relief by filing an amended 2019 return. The TCJA suspended the deduction for casualty losses for 2018 through 2025, but retained a current deduction for disaster-area losses.

BUSINESS TAX PLANNING

Depreciation-Related Deductions
Under current law, a business may benefit from a combination of three depreciation-based tax breaks: (1) The Section 179 deduction, (2) “bonus” depreciation and (3) regular depreciation.

YEAR-END MOVE: Place qualified property in service before the end of the year. Typically, a small business can write off most, if not all, of the cost in 2020 as shown below.

1. Section 179 deductions: This tax code section allows you to “expense” (i.e., currently deduct) the cost of qualified property placed in service anytime during the year. The maximum annual deduction is phased out on a dollar-for-dollar basis above a specified threshold.

The maximum Section 179 allowance has been gradually raised over the last decade since it was doubled to $500,000 in 2010. As shown below, the TCJA increased the amount again in 2018.

Tax yearDeduction limitPhase-out threshold
2010–2015$500,000$2 million
2016$500,000$2.01 million
2017$510,000$2.03 million
2018$1 million$2.50 million
2019$1.02 million$2.55 million
2020$1.04 million$2.59 million

However, be aware that the Section 179 deduction cannot exceed the taxable income from all your business activities this year. This could limit your deduction for 2020.

2. Bonus depreciation: The TCJA doubled the 50% first-year bonus depreciation deduction to 100% for property placed in service after September 27, 2017 and expanded the definition of qualified property to include used, not just new, property. However, the TCJA gradually phases out bonus depreciation after 2022.

3. Regular depreciation: Finally, if there is any remaining acquisition cost, the balance may be deducted over time under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS).

Note: The CARES Act fixes a glitch in the TCJA relating to “qualified improvement property” (QIP). Under the new law, QIP is eligible for bonus depreciation, retroactive to 2018. Therefore, your business may choose to file an amended return for the appropriate tax year.

Payroll Tax Deferral
Normally, employers must deposit payroll taxes with the IRS under a schedule based on the size of the prior period payroll taxes. Most small businesses are on a monthly schedule.  

YEAR-END MOVE: Take advantage of a payroll tax deferral break. Under the CARES Act, an employer can defer payment of the 6.2% Social Security tax portion of payroll taxes for the period spanning March 27, 2020, through December 31, 2020.

Half of the deferred amount is due at the end of 2021. The employer must pay the other half by the end of 2022. If you choose this approach, make sure you will have the funds needed to meet your company’s obligations in the future. 

Note: Don’t confuse the payroll tax deferral with the “payroll tax holiday” for employees created by an executive order in August. The payroll tax deferral discussed above refers to a separate provision in the CARES Act applying to employers.

Business Interest
Prior to 2018, business interest was fully deductible. But the TCJA generally limited the deduction for business interest to 30% of adjusted taxable income (ATI). Now the CARES Act raises the deduction to 50% of ATI, but only for 2019 and 2020.

YEAR-END MOVE: Determine if you qualify for a special exception. The 50%-of-ATI limit does not apply to a business with average gross receipts of $25 million (indexed for inflation) or less for the three prior years. The threshold for 2020 is $26 million.

For these purposes, ATI is defined as your business income without regard to any income, deduction, gain or loss not properly allocable to a business; business interest income and expense; net operating losses (NOLs); the 20% qualified business income (QBI) deduction; and, for tax years beginning before 2022, depreciation, amortization or depletion.

Note: If the business interest limit applies, you can carry forward the excess indefinitely until it is exhausted.

Employee Retention Credit
Many small businesses have been unable to continue regular operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Frequently, they are facing difficult decisions concerning employment of workers.

YEAR-END MOVE: Consider keeping employees, if you can, through the end of 2020. The CARES Act authorizes an employee retention credit (ERC) to offset some of the cost.

The ERC equals 50% of the qualified wages an employer pays to employees after March 12, 2020 and before January 1, 2021. For these purposes, “qualified wages” are limited to the first $10,000 of wages paid to each worker during this time period.

Your business qualifies for the credit if it fully or partially suspended operation during any calendar quarter in 2020 due to government orders relating to the COVID-19 outbreak or if it experienced a significant decline in gross receipts (i.e., gross receipts equal to less than 50% of the gross receipts for the same calendar quarter in 2019).

Note: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which followed soon after the CARES Act, also provides a tax credit to certain small businesses that have provided emergency paid leave due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The FFCRA provision initially offsets the Social Security tax component of payroll tax. Any excess credit is refundable.

Bad Debt Deduction
During this turbulent year, many small businesses are struggling to stay afloat, resulting in large numbers of outstanding receivables and collectibles.

YEAR-END MOVE: Increase your collection activities now. For instance, you may issue a series of dunning letters to debtors asking for payment. Then, if you are still unable to collect the unpaid amount, you can generally write off the debt as a business bad debt in 2020 (if on the accrual basis).

Generally, business bad debts are claimed in the year they become worthless. To qualify as a business bad debt, a loan or advance must have been created or acquired in connection with your business operation and result in a loss to the business entity if it cannot be repaid.

Note: Keep detailed records of all your collection activities—including letters, telephone calls, e-mails and efforts of collection agencies—in your files. This documentation can help support your position claiming worthlessness of the debt if the IRS ever challenges the bad debt deduction.

Miscellaneous
   * Maximize the QBI deduction that is available for pass-through entities and self-employed individuals. Be aware you must observe special rules if you’re in a “specified service trade or business” (SSTB).

   * If you buy a heavy-duty SUV or van for business, you may claim a first-year Section 179 deduction of up to $25,000. The “luxury car” limits do not apply to certain heavy-duty vehicles.

   * If you pay year-end bonuses to employees in 2020, the bonuses are generally deductible by your company and taxable to the employees in 2020. A calendar-year company operating on the accrual basis may be able to deduct bonuses paid as late as March 15, 2021, on its 2020 return.

   * Generally, repairs are currently deductible, while capital improvements must be depreciated over time. Therefore, make minor repairs before 2021 to increase your 2020 deduction.

   * Switch to cash accounting. Under a TCJA provision, a C corporation may use this simplified method if average gross receipts for last year were less than $26 million (up from $5 million).

   * Hire disadvantaged workers eligible for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). The WOTC, which is generally a maximum of $2,400 per worker, is scheduled to expire after 2020.

   * Get a new business up-and-running to qualify for a maximum first-year deduction of $5,000 in start-up costs. Any remainder is amortized over 180 months.

   * An employer can claim a refundable credit for certain family and medical leaves provided to employees. The credit is currently scheduled to expire after 2020.

   * Investigate Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgiveness. Under the CARES Act, PPP loans may be fully or partially forgiven without tax being imposed. Despite recent guidance, this remains a complex procedure, so consult with your professional tax advisor about the details.

FINANCIAL TAX PLANNING

Capital Gains and Losses
Frequently, investors time sales of assets like securities at year-end to produce optimal tax results. For starters, capital gains and losses offset each other. If you show an excess loss for the year, it offsets up to $3,000 of ordinary income before being carried over to the next year. Long-term capital gains from sales of securities owned longer than one year are taxed at a maximum rate of 15% or 20% for certain high-income investors. Conversely, short-term capital gains are taxed at ordinary income rates reaching up to 37% in 2020.

YEAR-END MOVE: Review your investment portfolio. Depending on your situation, you may harvest capital losses to offset gains realized earlier in the year or cherry-pick capital gains that will be partially or wholly absorbed by prior losses.

Be aware of even more favorable tax treatment for certain long-term capital gains. Notably, a 0% rate applies to taxpayers below certain income levels, such as a young child. Furthermore, some taxpayers who ultimately pay ordinary income tax at higher rates due to their investments may qualify for the 0% tax rate on a portion of their long-term capital gains.

However, watch out for the “wash sale rule.” If you sell securities at a loss and reacquire substantially identical securities within 30 days of the sale, the tax loss is disallowed. A simple way to avoid this harsh result is to wait at least 31 days to reacquire substantially identical securities.

Note: The 0%/15%/20% rate structure for long-term capital gains also applies to qualified dividends you have received in 2020. These are dividends paid by U.S. companies or qualified foreign companies.

Net Investment Income Tax
In addition to capital gains tax, a special 3.8% tax applies to the lesser of your “net investment income” (NII) or the amount by which your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) for the year exceeds $200,000 for single filers or $250,000 for joint filers. (These thresholds are not indexed for inflation.) The definition of NII includes interest, dividends, capital gains and income from passive activities, but not Social Security benefits, tax-exempt interest and distributions from qualified retirement plans and IRAs.

YEAR-END MOVE: Assess the amount of your NII and your MAGI at the end of the year. When it is possible, reduce your NII tax liability in 2020 or avoid it altogether.

For example, you might add municipal bonds (“munis”) to your portfolio. Interest income generated by munis does not count as NII, nor is it included in the calculation of MAGI. Similarly, if you turn a passive activity into an active business, the resulting income may be exempt from the NII tax. These rules are complex, so obtain professional assistance.

Note: When you add the NII tax to your regular tax plus any applicable state income tax, the overall tax rate may approach or even exceed 50%. Factor this into your investment decisions.

Required Minimum Distributions
As a general rule, you must receive “required minimum distributions” (RMDs) from qualified retirement plans and IRAs after reaching age 72 (70½ for taxpayers affected prior to 2020). The amount of the RMD is based on IRS life expectancy tables and your account balance at the end of last year. If you do not meet this obligation, you owe a tax penalty equal to 50% of the required amount (less any amount you have received) on top of your regular tax liability.

YEAR-END MOVE: Take RMDs in 2020 if you need the cash. Otherwise, you can skip them this year, thanks to a suspension of the usual rules by the CARES Act. There is no requirement to demonstrate any hardship relating to the pandemic.  

However, if you already received an RMD this year and did not return the money to a qualified plan or IRA by August 31, the distribution is generally taxable in 2020.

Typically, retirees wait until late in the year to arrange RMDs. If you still intend to take any of your RMDs in 2020, make sure you complete the arrangements in time to have this accommodated by the financial institution.  

Note: RMDs are not treated as NII for purposes of the 3.8% tax. Nevertheless, an RMD may still increase your MAGI used in the NII tax calculation.

IRA Rollovers
If you receive a distribution from a qualified retirement plan or IRA, it is generally subject to tax unless you roll it over into another qualified plan or IRA within 60 days. In addition, you may owe a 10% tax penalty on taxable distributions received before age 59½. However, some taxpayers may have more leeway to avoid tax liability in 2020 under a special CARES Act provision.

YEAR-END MOVE: Take your time redepositing the funds if it qualifies as a COVID-19 related distribution. The CARES Act gives you three years, instead of the usual 60 days, to redeposit up to $100,000 of funds in a plan or IRA without owing any tax.

To qualify for this tax break, you (or your spouse, if you are married) must have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or experienced adverse financial consequences due to the virus (e.g., being laid off, having work hours reduced or being quarantined or furloughed). If you do not replace the funds, the resulting tax is spread evenly over three years.

Note: This may be a good time to consider a conversion of a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. With a Roth, future payouts are generally exempt from tax, but you must pay current tax on the converted amount. Have a tax professional help you determine if this makes sense for your situation.

Estate and Gift Taxes
Since the turn of the century, Congress has gradually increased the federal estate tax exemption, while eventually establishing a top estate tax rate of 40%. At one point, the estate tax was repealed—but only for 2010—while the unified estate and gift tax exclusion was severed and then subsequently reunified.

Finally, the TCJA doubled the exemption from $5 million to $10 million for 2018 through 2025, inflation-indexed to $11.58 million in 2020. The following table shows the progression of the estate tax exemption and top estate tax rate during the last decade.


Tax year
 
Estate tax exemption

Top estate tax rate
2011$5 million35%
2012$5.12 million35%
2013$5.25 million40%
2014$5.34 million40%
2015$5.43 million40%
2016$5.45 million40%
2017$5.49 million40%
2018$11.18 million40%
2019$11.40 million40%
2020$11.58 million40%

YEAR-END MOVE: Update your estate plan to reflect current law. For instance, you may revise wills and trusts to accommodate the rule allowing portability of the estate tax exemption.

Under the “portability provision” for a married couple, the unused portion of the estate tax exemption of the first spouse to die may be carried over to the estate of the surviving spouse. This tax break is now permanent, so incorporate it into your estate planning decisions.

Note: With the gift tax exclusion, you can give each recipient, like a young family member, up to $15,000 in 2020 without paying any federal gift tax. This exclusion is effectively doubled to $30,000 for joint gifts made by a married couple. These gifts reduce the size of your taxable estate.

Miscellaneous
   * Contribute up to $19,500 to a 401(k) in 2020 ($26,000 if you are age 50 or older). If you clear the 2020 Social Security wage base of $137,700 and promptly allocate the payroll tax savings to a 401(k), you can increase your deferral without any further reduction in your take-home pay.

   * Sell real estate on an installment basis. For payments over two years or more, you can defer tax on a portion of the sales price. Also, this may effectively reduce your overall tax liability.   

   * Invest in passive income generators (PIGs). Generally, you can only use losses from passive activities (e.g., most real estate investments) to offset income from other passive activities, with limited exceptions. With a PIG, you can absorb more of your passive activity losses.

   * From a tax perspective, it is often beneficial to sell mutual fund shares before the fund declares dividends (the ex-dividend date) and buy shares after the date the fund declares dividends.

   * Consider a qualified charitable distribution (QCD). If you are age 70½ or older, you can transfer up to $100,000 of IRA funds directly to a charity. Although the contribution is not deductible, the QCD is exempt from tax. This may benefit your overall tax picture.

CONCLUSION
This year-end tax-planning letter is based on the prevailing federal tax laws, rules and regulations. Of course, it is subject to change, especially if additional tax legislation is enacted by Congress before the end of the year.

Finally, remember that this letter is intended to serve only as a general guideline. Your personal circumstances will likely require careful examination. We would be glad to schedule a meeting with you to assist with all your tax-planning needs.

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.

Income Tax Breaks for your Home October 28, 2020

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

It is a good time to chat about some tax breaks associated with a personal residence since the real estate market remains hot for a variety of reasons.  According to companies like SoFi, some people are motivated by the historic low mortgage rates either to buy a home or to refi an existing mortgage.  Others, having spent a lot of time working from home because of the pandemic, wish to enlarge and/or remodel their home.  Some people are also buying a second home.  Interestingly, mortgage interest paid for boats and motor homes may be deductible provided they have a toilet, and cooking and sleeping arrangements.  Of course, this interest must still meet the other deduction requirements.  As a side note, mortgage interest may not be deducted on more than two homes.

Mortgage interest is deducted as an itemized deduction.  Itemized deductions also include medical expenses, state and local taxes and charitable contributions – each subject to their own limitations.  It does not make sense to use your itemized deductions if your standard deduction is larger.  If you are unable to itemize or go “long form”, your mortgage interest may not be of any value on your tax return.  As for most tax deductions, limitations do exist on the size of the home loan and the use of the loan proceeds as to what may be deducted for the mortgage interest.

Business owners may deduct expenses associated with the regular and exclusive business use of their home.  Such expenses are deducted typically more favorably as a business deduction than as an itemized deduction.  These expenses may include improvements made to your home.

The deduction for working from home as an employee was unfortunately eliminated in 2017.  But you may have a win-win situation if your company reimburses you for your home expenses.  The reimbursement is not taxable income to you but is deductible to the company. 

Various ideas written above were taken from the August 8, 2020 WSJ article written by Laura Saunders titled “Home Is Where The Tax Breaks Are.”

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.

5 New Rules for Charitable Giving October 14, 2020

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

New tax laws and strategies can help you maximize tax breaks for yourself and benefits for the charity.

THERE ARE SO MANY reasons to make charitable gifts this year – whether it’s to support nonprofits that help people and communities with challenges from the coronavirus pandemic, or to provide assistance after disasters such as the Beirut explosion or an active hurricane season.

Even though a lot of people are struggling financially right now, many people whose finances have stabilized want to do whatever they can to help out. And they’re not waiting until the end of the year to make their gifts. “A lot of things are driving people to be generous, and our numbers prove it,” says Kim Laughton, president of Schwab Charitable, which runs Schwab’s donor-advised funds. From January through June 2020, its donors recommended over $1.7 billion in 330,000 grants, almost a 50% increase in the dollars granted and the number of grants compared to the same period in 2019. “There’s great need out there, and people are stepping up.”

“Philanthropy and giving is on everyone’s mind,” says Dien Yuen, who holds the Blunt-Nickel Professorship in Philanthropy at the American College of Financial Services. Some nonprofits need help now just to stay afloat. “The donors who are quite active are making gifts now and not waiting until later in the year, because the nonprofit might not be there later on.”

New tax laws and strategies can help you maximize tax breaks for yourself and the benefits for the charity. Here’s what you need to know:

New $300 Charitable Deduction for Non-Itemizers

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, created several incentives for people to help charities right away, including a charitable deduction of up to $300 in 2020, even if you don’t itemize. Otherwise, you generally need to itemize to take the charitable deduction, which fewer people do since the standard deduction doubled a few years ago – now at $12,400 for single filers and $24,800 for married couples filing jointly in 2020.

“As a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, most taxpayers utilize the significantly higher standard deduction instead of itemizing deductions for mortgage interest, state taxes paid and charitable contributions,” says Mark Alaimo, a certified public accountant and certified financial planner in Lawrence, Massachusetts. “This special CARES Act provision now gives a tax incentive to all taxpayers to give at least $300 to charity during 2020.” To qualify, the gift must be made in cash and go directly to the charity, rather than to a donor-advised fund or private foundation.

“I think that the additional $300 provision in the CARES Act is really great, especially for the younger generation who may be just starting to work and may not be paying substantial mortgage interest,” says Kelsey Clair, tax strategist for Baird’s Private Wealth Management Group. “It allows them to give even in a small way and reap the tax benefit for it.”

The CARES Act also helps people who are in a financial position to make very large gifts. In 2020, you can deduct cash gifts of up to 100% of your adjusted gross income, rather than the usual 60% limit. To qualify for this higher limit, the gifts must go directly to the charities, rather than to a donor-advised fund or private foundation. This can help wealthy people reduce their taxable income significantly in 2020, and it may also help retirees who have money to give but bump up against the income limits for the deduction. “I see it in the older generation who have a lot of cash but don’t have a lot of income coming in and are trying to help out the community in any way they can,” says Clair.

Bunching Contributions and Donor-Advised Funds

Bunching contributions is a strategy that became popular after the standard deduction was increased. Instead of making smaller charitable contributions spread over several years, you can make larger contributions in one year so you can itemize your deductions (and claim the charitable deduction) that year, then take the standard deduction in the other years. “Rather than making a steady stream of charitable contributions from year to year, it may be beneficial instead to use a bunching strategy – give more and itemize in one year, and claim the standard deduction in other years,” says Clair.

Even though this can help you tax-wise, you might not want to give all of the money to the charities at one time and then neglect them over the next few years. But bunching can work well if you have a donor-advised fund. These funds are offered by brokerage firms, banks and community foundations, and you can take the charitable deduction in the year you give the money to the donor-advised fund, but then you have an unlimited amount of time to decide which charities to support. You can usually open a donor-advised fund with an initial contribution of $5,000 to $10,000 (it’s $5,000 at Schwab and Fidelity, $10,000 at T. Rowe Price, and $25,000 at Vanguard). You can make grants to charities of $50 or $100 up to thousands of dollars or more, and you can invest the money in a handful of mutual funds or investing pools until you make the grants. “It can be a great way to go ahead and make the contribution, without having to decide where that money goes right away,” says Clair.

Another benefit of the donor-advised fund is simplicity – you get one receipt for your tax records when you make the contribution and don’t have to wait for a variety of paperwork from each of the charities. “Donor-advised funds really help with the administrative side of things,” says Elliot Dole, a certified financial planner with Buckingham Strategic Wealth in St. Louis. “Itemizing charitable gifts is a hot button audit area. But with a donor-advised fund, it’s clear that you met the requirements.”

A Double Tax Break From Giving Appreciated Stock

Many people just write a check to the charity, but you may get a bigger tax benefit if you give appreciated stock. If you owned the stock for more than a year, you can deduct the value of the stock on the date you give it to the charity if you itemize. And even if you don’t itemize, you can avoid having to pay long-term capital gains taxes on your profits, which could have cost up to 20% if you sold the stock first. (Giving appreciated stock doesn’t qualify for the special $300 charitable deduction for non-itemizers for 2020; that only applies to cash.)

Most charities can accept appreciated stock, but the process can be easier if you have a donor-advised fund. “Given how volatile the stock market can be, many advisors recommend utilizing donor-advised funds due to the ease and speed that one can make a contribution,” says Alaimo. “This makes it easier to opportunistically gift highly appreciated securities, while regulating which charity receives how much of the donation, and when they receive it.”

It’s even easier if your brokerage account and donor-advised fund are with the same company. “When you log into your Schwab accounts, it shows your investment accounts, your bank accounts and your charitable account,” says Laughton. You can sort your investments by most highly appreciated or highly concentrated and see if you’re overweighted in one area. “We encourage people to rebalance their portfolios regularly, and when they see they’re overconcentrated, instead of selling those shares, they can just move them over to their charitable account,” says Laughton.

With so much stock market volatility this year, you may want to donate the stock when it reaches a target price, rather than giving at a certain time of year.

The donor-advised fund can also accept a variety of contributions – whether you write a check or you give appreciated stock, privately held stock, real estate, limited partnerships or even a horse farm. “It always makes sense for people who have highly appreciated non-cash assets to at least explore whether they could make good charitable gifts,” says Laughton. “Donor-advised funds can make that simple and easy.”

If you have investments that have lost value, however, it’s better to sell them first – and take a Charitable loss – and then give the cash to charity. “I’ve seen multiple times where people made mistakes of donating stocks that were in a loss,” says Clair. “It’s better to sell that and claim the loss on your return and donate the cash.” When you sell the losing stock, you can use the loss to offset your capital gains and can use up to $3,000 in losses to reduce your ordinary income, which you couldn’t do if you gave the stock directly to the charity.

Make a Tax-Free Transfer From Your IRA

People who are age 70½ and older can give up to $100,000 per year tax-free from their IRA to charity, a procedure called a qualified charitable distribution or QCD. The gift counts as their required minimum distribution but isn’t included in their adjusted gross income. (Even though the SECURE Act, another recent tax law, increased the age to start taking RMDs from 70½ to 72, you can still make a qualified charitable distribution any time after you turn age 70½.)

This is usually a great strategy for people who have to take RMDs and would like to give money to charity – they can help the charity and not have to pay taxes on the money they have to withdraw from their IRA. But because of the CARES Act, people are not required to take RMDs in 2020. However, you may still be able to benefit from making a QCD this year. “Some people who have been doing the QCD have been supporting a couple of charities every year, and they’re not going to stop, especially during this time of need,” says Yuen. The tax-free transfer takes money out of your IRA, which can help reduce future RMDs. “It’s great planning,” she says.

To keep the money out of your AGI, it must be transferred directly from your IRA to the charity – you can’t withdraw it first. Ask your IRA administrator about the procedure, and let the charity know the money is coming. You have to give this money directly to a charity; it can’t go to a donor-advised fund.

Make an Extra Effort to Research Charities This Year

Scam artists have been out in full force to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s even more important now to check out charities before you give money, especially if they contact you first. You can look up charities at sites such as Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. Local community foundations are also a great resource for aid focused on your community – see the Community Foundation Locator for links. If you have a donor-advised fund, you may have access to additional research tools, such as GuideStar.

Schwab Charitable can help its donors vet the charities and also provides lists of selected charities that focus on timely issues, such as COVID-19 relief and social justice. “We’re trying to develop short lists to help people narrow the charities down to ones we know are valid and doing good work,” says Laughton.

Credit given to US News & World Report published Aug 21, 2020 by Kimberly Lankford.

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.

Who Will Pay Your Estate Taxes? October 7, 2020

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : Deductions, Depreciation options, General, Retirement, tax changes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Rules, Tax Tip , add a comment

To a large degree, paying federal estate taxes is voluntary since many estate planning tools are available to eliminate or at least reduce this tax.  Having said that, once your estate reaches over a certain size and you are not married (if you are married you may have an unlimited marital estate deduction for assets transferred to a spouse) – the available estate tax reducing tools may not be adequate to reduce the federal estate tax to zero. Regardless, your lifetime federal estate exclusion for 2020 is $11,580,000. If your taxable estate is less than the lifetime exclusion amount – no federal estate tax is normally due. For most people the current lifetime exclusion of $11,580,000 seems more than enough. But, as recent as 1997, the lifetime exclusion was only $600,000. Who knows how this might change with the possibility of a new incoming administration. The current top federal estate tax rate is 40%. At that rate, if you expect to have a taxable estate, spending some money now for estate planning may reap some huge benefits for your heirs. 

Too often people tend to focus only on their federal estate tax planning and overlook the possibility of a State death or inheritance tax. Currently, about 1/3 of the states have some sort of death or inheritance tax. The State of Ohio ended its death/inheritance tax for any deaths occurring after January 1, 2013.

Side note: Gifts are one of many effective tools for reducing one’s taxable estate.  In 2020, a gift of up to $15,000 may be made to an individual without having to report the gift or reduce your lifetime exclusion.

                                                                                                  -Mark Bradstreet

If you have a taxable estate, consider yourself fortunate. I often tell clients, “paying estate taxes is a good problem to have.” It is better than the alternative – dying with few or no assets. But sometimes little thought is given to who will pay these estate taxes.

An estate tax is a one-time tax that is due nine months from the date of a person’s death. It is not an income tax, although it is easily confused with yearly income taxes that estates, trusts and individuals have to pay. Republicans call it the “death tax.” Democrats and the Internal Revenue Code refer to it as the estate tax. Whatever you call it, it is the same thing – a tax on a person’s assets valued as of the date of death. 

Many estates are exempt from the estate tax. If the value of your assets (and prior taxable gifts) do not reach the filing threshold, an estate tax return may not be due. The federal amount you are allowed to leave in 2020 without paying an estate tax is $11,580, 000. That amount is scheduled to increase for inflation every year until 2026 when it drops to $5,000,000 adjusted for inflation. It also may drop sooner depending on what happens with the November elections. 

Keep in mind that depending on where you live, your state may also have a state estate tax. For example, the exemption amount in Massachusetts is only $1 million. 

If you have a will, it should specify how your estate taxes will be paid. In general, it is your executor’s responsibility to pay your estate taxes. Typically, the will directs your executor to use your probate assets to pay the estate taxes that are due. However, if some of your assets pass outside your will, i.e. by beneficiary designations or joint ownership, there may not be enough assets in your probate estate to pay your estate taxes. This scenario means that the beneficiaries of your will could end up paying a disproportionately greater share of the taxes due. 

To avoid this, you need to pay close attention to the beneficiaries named in your will and the beneficiaries of your non-probate assets such as life insurance policies, IRA’s and 401K’s. If the beneficiaries are not the same, you may stick some people with paying for the estate tax while others receive their assets free and clear of any tax.

Take the example of a woman who died leaving a large “payable on death” account and life insurance policy to her live-in boyfriend. These non-probate assets were paid directly to the boyfriend. They were still included in her taxable estate and taxed for estate tax purposes, but the boyfriend did not have to contribute to the estate taxes. He received the assets free of estate taxes. 

The estate taxes were paid out of the probate estate. The only probate asset was a heavily mortgaged house that was left to nieces and nephews. Because the will stipulated that all estate taxes must be paid from the probate assets, the nieces and nephews were on the hook for the entire estate tax which essentially ate up any monies they were to receive.  

Be sure to discuss payment of estate taxes with your attorney. You do not want to leave some of your beneficiaries to pay the bill while others walk away scot-free.

Credit Given to:  Christine Fletcher published on June 12, 2020 in Forbes.

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.

How to Owe Nothing with Your Federal Tax Return September 9, 2020

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : Depreciation options, General, tax changes, Tax Preparation, Tax Rules, Tax Tip , add a comment

Here’s how to fine-tune your W-4 and avoid writing a fat check next year.

It’s a calming thought: owing nothing on your federal tax return. And you can make it happen if you handle your withholding strategically.

Here’s how:

The W-4 form that you fill out for your employer when you start a new job determines how much income tax will be withheld from your paycheck and, ultimately, how much tax you will either owe or get back as a refund at the end of the year.

What you may not know is that it’s not a one-time thing. You can submit a revised W-4 form to your employer whenever you want. Managing how much your employer withholds through your W-4 form will give you a better shot at owing no taxes come April.

You also should avoid having too much withheld, of course. That would be giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan all year.

Here’s how to get your tax bill closer to zero before tax time arrives:

KEY TAKEAWAYS
• The W-4 form that you fill out for your employer determines how much tax is withheld from your paycheck throughout the year.
• An online calculator can help you estimate your tax liability for the year and determine whether you’re having too little or too much withheld.
• Once you know that, you can submit a new W-4 to get you closer to owing zero at tax time.

Estimate What You’ll Owe
If you are a salaried employee with a steady job, it’s relatively easy to calculate your tax liability for the year. You can predict what your total income will be.

Millions of Americans don’t fall into the above category. They work freelance, have multiple jobs, work for an hourly rate, or depend on commissions, bonuses, or tips. If you’re one of them, you’ll need to make an educated guess based on your earnings history and how your year has gone so far.

From there, there are several ways to get a good estimate of your tax liability:

Use an Online Check Calculator
There are a number of free income tax calculators online. If you enter your gross pay, your pay frequency, your federal filing status, and other relevant information, the calculator will tell you your federal tax liability per paycheck.

You can multiply that by the number of pay periods in a year to see your total tax liability.

This method is easy, and the result will be reasonably accurate, but it may not be perfect since your actual tax liability may depend on some other variables, such as whether you itemize deductions and which tax credits you claim.

Use a Tax Withholding Estimator
The tax withholding estimator on the Internal Revenue Service website is particularly useful for people with more complex tax situations.

It will ask about factors like your eligibility for child and dependent care tax credits, whether and how much you contribute to a tax-deferred retirement plan or health savings account, and how much federal tax you had withheld from your most recent paycheck.

Based on the answers to your questions, it will tell you your estimated tax obligation for the year, how much you will have paid through withholding by year’s end, and your expected over-payment or underpayment.

Fill Out a Sample Tax Return
Another option is to complete a sample tax return for the year, either by using tax software or by downloading the forms you need from the IRS website and filling them out by hand.

This method should give you the most accurate picture of your annual tax liability.

If you’re using last year’s tax software or IRS forms, make sure there haven’t been significant changes to the rules or the tax rates that would affect your situation.

How To Get The Most Money Back On Your Tax Return

Adjust Your Tax Withholding
Once you know the total amount you will owe in federal taxes, the next step is figuring out how much you need to have withheld per pay period to reach that target but not exceed it by Dec. 31.

Then fill out a new W-4 form accordingly.

You don’t have to wait for your employer’s HR department to hand you a new W-4 form. You can print one yourself from the IRS website.

If Not Enough Is Being Withheld
The W-4 form has a place to indicate the amount of additional tax you’d like to have withheld each pay period.

If you’ve underpaid so far, subtract the amount you’re on track to pay by the end of the year, at your current level of withholding, from the amount you will owe in total. Then divide the result by the number of pay periods that remain in the year.

That will tell you how much extra you want to have withheld from each paycheck.

You could also decrease the number of withholding allowances you claim, but the results won’t be as accurate.

If You’ve Been Overpaying
Unless you’re looking forward to a big refund, try increasing the number of withholding allowances you claim on the W-4.

Deciding on the exact number can be tricky. The best method is to plug different numbers of withholding allowances into a paycheck calculator until it hits the amount closest to the federal tax you want to have withheld for each pay period going forward.

Note that the IRS requires that you have a reasonable basis for the withholding allowances you claim. It doesn’t want you fiddling with its form just to avoid paying taxes until the last minute.

If you don’t have enough tax withheld, you could be subject to underpayment penalties.

Bear in mind that you need to have enough tax withheld throughout the year to avoid underpayment penalties and interest. You can do that by making sure your withholding equals at least 90% of your current year’s tax liability or 100% of your previous year’s tax liability, whichever is smaller.

You’ll also avoid penalties if you owe less than $1,000 on your tax return.

Other Considerations
If it’s so early in the year that you haven’t received any paychecks yet, you can just divide your total tax liability for the year that just ended by the number of paychecks you receive in a year. Then, compare that amount to the amount that’s withheld from your first paycheck of the year once you get it and make any necessary adjustments from there.

If you adjust your W-4 to make up for any underpayment or over-payment partway through the year, you’ll want to fill out a new W-4 in January or your withholding will be off for the new year.

Of course, if your income fluctuates unpredictably, this is all a lot harder. But following the steps above should help you get close to a reasonable number.

And remember: You can redo your W-4 several times during the year if necessary.

Article credit given to – Amy Fontinelle – click here for original article

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

–until next week.

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

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

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

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

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

                                            -Mark Bradstreet

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

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

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

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

Lower Income Tax Rates

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

No Self-Employment Taxes for Landlords

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

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

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

New Passive Income Loss Rule

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

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

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

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

20 Tax Deductions for Landlords

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C-Y-A!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Word

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

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

Credit Given to:  G. Brian Davis

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

This week’s author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | 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 | 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 | 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 | 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.