jump to navigation

Tax Tip of the Week | Could You or Someone You Know Be Missing Out On Earned Income Credit? October 16, 2019

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

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

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

                                                     -Mark Bradstreet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who qualifies to get the credit?

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

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

What’s the credit worth? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you need a child to get the credit? 

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

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

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

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

Why don’t people file for the credit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When do you receive a tax refund? 

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

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

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

Credit given to: Susan Tomporat.

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

This Week’s Author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | How Divorce Affects Social Security Benefits?? October 2, 2019

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

Social Security Benefits experts are difficult to find. I am not one. We understand the calculations of Social Security and Self Employment taxes along with some areas (and entity choices) in which they may be minimized. But, the nuances of Social Security Benefits do not fall directly into our world of income taxes, accounting and business consulting.

Social Security Benefits are complicated and a divorce increases this level of complexity.  Practically 50% of USA marriages end in divorces. The following article explains some of these rules and also walks us through an example of a divorced couple.

                                     -Mark Bradstreet

Here’s how a divorce can affect your Social Security situation.

A whopping 91% of Americans over the age of 50 don’t understand what factors determine the amount they can potentially receive in Social Security benefits, a survey from the Nationwide Retirement Institute found.

There are several factors that can affect how much you receive in Social Security benefits, such as the age at which you claim benefits, whether you continue working after you claim benefits, and how much you earned during the years you paid into Social Security.

One factor that’s easy to overlook, however, is divorce. If you are currently divorced and were married for at least 10 years, you or your ex-spouse could be earning more in Social Security benefits than you think.

How divorce affects Social Security

Not all divorced couples are eligible to receive additional benefits once they start claiming Social Security, and there are certain requirements you’ll have to meet.

The first thing to consider is how your benefits compare to your ex-spouse’s. If you’re receiving more in Social Security benefits than your ex-spouse (or if you haven’t claimed yet but are expected to receive more than your ex-spouse), you’re not eligible for any additional money each month. But if you’re receiving less each month than your ex, you may be eligible for an increase in benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work record.

Assuming you’re receiving less than your ex-spouse in benefits, there are a few other requirements you’ll need to meet. First, you and your former spouse need to have been married for at least 10 years, and you cannot currently be married (although it doesn’t matter whether your ex-spouse has remarried or not). In order to start claiming benefits, you also need to be at least 62 years old.

If you and your ex-spouse are old enough to file for benefits but your ex hasn’t claimed them yet, you can still claim your benefits based on their work record if you have been divorced for at least two years. Also, if you’re eligible for benefits based on your own work record, that money will be paid out first. Then if you’re also eligible to receive extra benefits based on your ex-spouse’s record, you’ll receive an additional amount each month.

Exactly how much extra you’ll receive depends on the age at which you claim. In order to receive the full amount you’re entitled to, you’ll have to wait until your full retirement age (FRA) – which is either age 66, 67, or somewhere in between. If you claim before then (as early as age 62), your benefits will be reduced. By waiting until your FRA, assuming you’re eligible to receive benefits based on your ex-spouse’s record, you can receive half of the amount he or she is receiving in benefits.

One last thing to keep in mind is that regardless of how much someone is receiving in benefits based on their ex-spouses record, it doesn’t affect how much the other person or their current spouse receives in benefits. So, if, say, your ex-wife is receiving benefits based on your record, you and your current wife’s benefits will not be reduced as a result.

Social Security in action: A hypothetical example

Figuring out whether you can claim benefits based on an ex-spouse’s record and calculating what you’d actually receive is complicated and confusing. So, let’s look at a hypothetical example to make it a little easier to understand.

Let’s say you and your husband were married 20 years, and you never remarried after the divorce. Your FRA is 67 years old, and if you claim at that age, you’d be receiving $1,000 per month based on your own work record and earnings. Your ex-husband, however, is currently receiving $2,500 per month in benefits. Because you were married at least 10 years, you’re unmarried now, and you’re eligible to receive less in benefits than your ex-spouse, you can apply for benefits based on your ex-husband’s record.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s say you wait until your FRA to claim. By doing so, you’ll receive the full $1,000 you’re entitled to based on your own record. Based on your ex-husband’s work record, you’re eligible to receive half of what he’s receiving, or $1,250 per month. With ex-spouse benefits, you’re not allowed to “double dip” – meaning you won’t receive your $1,000 plus $1,250 based on your ex-husband’s record. Rather, you’ll receive your $1,000 and an additional $250 per month so that your total benefit amount is equal to half of what your ex-spouse is receiving in benefits.

Also, all the normal Social Security restrictions still apply here. So, if, for example, you claim earlier than your FRA, your benefits will be reduced. And if you continue working after claiming benefits, you may see a (temporary) reduction in benefits as well, depending on how much you’re earning.

Social Security benefits can seem complex, and there are many factors that contribute to how much you’ll receive each month. But by understanding how much you’re entitled to and whether you’re eligible for additional benefits, you can maximize your monthly checks – and enjoy a more financially stable retirement.

Credit given to:  Katie Brockman, The Motley Fool This was published on July 1, 2019

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

This Week’s Author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | Should Uncle Sam Be A Consideration – When or If We Marry September 25, 2019

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : Deductions, General, tax changes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Tip, Taxes , 1 comment so far

The new tax law passed in 2017 eliminated some of the so-called “marriage tax penalty.”  But, significant differences still exist when comparing the tax burden of a married couple versus two single taxpayers. One rule of thumb is when both spouses have about the same taxable income; their combined income tax is typically more than had they stayed single. When one spouse has significantly more taxable income than the other spouse then often their combined income tax is less than if they had stayed single. We often cringe when we see weddings near the end of the year. Often, had the couple waited just a few days until after the 1st of the year, significant tax dollars may have been saved. It is difficult explaining to a newly married couple who both received refunds as single taxpayers for the prior year but now have a tax liability as a married couple. Some things in the tax law just simply don’t make sense.

                                -Mark Bradstreet

More than two million American couples will get married this year. Many of them will pay more in taxes because they tied the knot.

The Republican tax overhaul passed in 2017 lowered the cost of being married for many couples. Even so, being married is often more expensive than being two single filers come tax time. If a couple has children and both spouses earn income, they can owe Uncle Sam thousands of dollars every year just for being married.

These marriage penalties, as they’re called, prompt some committed couples to leave the knot untied. Some even have big weddings but don’t marry legally.

While most couples choose to keep this decision private, one famous (well, famous for economists) couple has been pretty open about the decision.

Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, economists with international reputations at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, have been together for years. They are the parents of two children. But they aren’t married and say one reason is taxes.

Filing as two single people provides the couple with significant tax savings, according to Ms. Stevenson, though she declined to say how much.

By being public, the couple hopes to stimulate policy discussion.

A common complaint about the current tax structure is a difference between couples that have similar incomes and couples in which one partner earns much more. Under the law, a couple whose incomes are far apart often pay less if they’re married, while couples whose earnings are more evenly split often pay the same as or more than two singles.

“Any household where one earner is generating the same income that Justin and I generate together is better off than we are, because of the value of the stay-at-home spouse’s time,” says Ms. Stevenson. She has proposed a tax credit for the second-earning spouse.

Here’s how marriage bonuses and penalties work in practice, based on examples computed on the Tax Policy Center’s 2019 Marriage Calculator. It’s free and useful for what-if calculations.

Marriage Penalties

Many tax provisions penalize married joint filers because the benefit for them isn’t twice the amount that single filers receive.


Maximum deduction for student-loan interest       Single $2,500   Joint  $2,500 

Maximum capital losses deductible from ordinary income  Single  $3,000   Joint  $3,000

Maximum deduction for state and local taxes      Single  $10,000  Joint  $10,000

Traditional IRA deduction disallowance begins      Single  $64,000   Joint $103,000

Roth IRA contribution disallowance begins     Single  $122,000   Joint  $193,000

3.8% tax on net investment income begins     Single  $200,000  Joint  $250,000

Additional 0.9% Medicare tax on wages begins    Single  $200,000  Joint  $250,000

20% rate on certain capital gains and dividends begins  Single  $434,550  Joint  $488,850

37% rate on taxable income begins        Single  $510,300  Joint  $612,350

Mortgage debt eligible for interest deduction      Single  $750,000  Joint  $750,000

Say that two couples each have total income of $225,000 and no children or itemized deductions.

In the first couple, one partner earns $210,000 and one earns $15,000. If they marry, they’ll save about $8,400 compared with filing as two singles.

In the second couple, one partner earns $145,000 and the other earns $80,000. Being married will save them about $300 compared with filing as two singles.

Things change if each couple has two young children and typical deductions for mortgage interest, state taxes and charity. The couple with one high and one low earner has a marriage bonus, although it drops to about $3,200.

The second couple now has a big marriage penalty.

They owe about $4,000 more than they’d pay as two single filers—just for one year. Having a $50,000 capital-gain windfall would add nearly $1,000 to their penalty.

The reasons for these disparities are complex, says Roberton Williams, a tax economist at the University of Maryland.

He says that in a system that imposes higher rates as income rises, like America’s, it’s impossible to tax married couples based on their total income regardless of who earns it while also taxing married couples so they owe the same as two single people.

“The U.S. system creates marriage bonuses and penalties. Other countries avoid this by taxing married couples as two individuals,” Mr. Williams adds. Shifting to such a system could be difficult in the U.S., in part because of community-property laws in some states.

The tax code also has marriage penalties in specific provisions.

For example, singles can’t directly contribute the maximum amount to a Roth IRA for 2019 if they earn more than $122,000. For married couples the limit is $193,000—not $244,000.

The 2017 tax overhaul repealed some marriage penalties and broadened some tax brackets, helping many two-earner married couples. But it retained other marriage penalties and added more.

One is the new $10,000 limit on deductions for state and local taxes, or SALT. This limit is per return, so married joint filers who list deductions on Schedule A get only a $10,000 write-off, while two single filers living together get a $20,000 write-off.

Affluent married couples hoping to buy a home in expensive areas like San Francisco, Washington, D.C., or New York could also feel a pinch. The overhaul dropped the maximum mortgage debt that’s eligible for an interest deduction on new purchases to $750,000 from about $1 million, and the limit is per return.

So an unmarried couple can deduct interest on $1.5 million of mortgage debt, while the limit for a married couple is $750,000.

For couples contemplating marriage, estimating the tax cost can be hard.

One reason is that marriage penalties often vary over time. For example, a two-earner couple may not owe a penalty when they are first married. If they become a one-earner couple when they have children, they may get a marriage bonus.

If both spouses work and prosper, however, their penalty could grow.

Says Ms. Stevenson: “People tell me, ‘I didn’t mind paying more tax when we were first married, but now it’s enough to put a dent in college tuition.’”

Laws also change. Marriage penalties removed by the 2017 overhaul will return after 2025 if Congress doesn’t act.

Yet another complication is that the U.S. tax code provides marriage bonuses, even to couples who owe marriage penalties. For example, a spouse who inherits a traditional IRA or 401(k) account has better options than a non-spouse heir.

Unmarried couples face other costs and issues, of course. They may pay more for health coverage, and they have to prepare two tax returns. They’ll need to take special care with health proxies, powers of attorney and other legal documents giving them decision-making powers over each other and children.

Married couples who currently owe penalties have options for lowering them, but not many. One is to reduce reported  income where possible, say by contributing to tax-deductible retirement plans or spreading taxable capital gains over more than one year.

Also consider the “married, filing separately” status. This choice doesn’t allow couples to file as two singles, and it usually raises taxes. But sometimes it lowers them, as when one partner has a small business that qualifies for a 20% deduction if a higher-earning spouse’s income is excluded. It could also help if one partner has high medical expenses.

How about getting divorced? That’s a lot harder than getting married. And the Internal Revenue Service for decades has had the power to disregard divorces that are solely for tax reasons.

Credit given to:  Laura Sanders.  This was published July 20-21, 2019 in the Wall Street Journal. You can write to Laura Saunders at laura.saunders@wsj.com

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

This Week’s Author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week

Tax Tip of the Week | Tax Considerations for Working Kids September 18, 2019

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

When we file children’s income tax returns, nasty surprises are not commonplace BUT on the other hand they are not rare either. Some not so pleasant surprises may result from the Form W-4 that children will complete for their tax withholdings. Being over withheld may create a larger tax refund but a smaller net payroll check each pay period. On the other hand, withholding too little makes each net payroll check look awesome but may create a tax balance when the income tax return is filed. Another surprise situation may occur when the child receives a Form 1099 (no withholding) instead of a Form W-2 (has withholdings). In this instance, their income tax world immediately becomes more complicated as tax estimates will most likely be needed along with accounting for their income and expenses. As soon as you discover that your child will receive a Form 1099, you should contact your CPA for further information concerning estimated amounts and various tax deadlines. Please remember that not making any required estimated income tax payments may create interest and penalties along with the potential for a large balance due with the tax return.

The below article by Bill Bischoff of MarketWatch drills down further into some of my comments above and discusses some additional ones.  

                            -Mark Bradstreet

5 questions and answers about kids and money

Is your kid earning money from a summer job or some other activity? If so, what are the tax implications? And BTW, what kid-related tax breaks can you collect? Good questions. Here are some answers.

Does my kid need to file a tax return?

Maybe. For 2019, a dependent child must file a federal income tax return on Form 1040 in any of the following situations:

* The child has unearned income of more than $1,100. If your child has more than $2,200 of unearned income, he or she may be subject to the dreaded Kiddie Tax. More on that later.

* The kid’s gross income exceeds the greater of: (1) $1,100 or (2) earned income up to $11,650 plus $350.

* The child’s earned income exceeds $12,200.

* The kid owes other taxes such as the self-employment tax or the alternative minimum tax (AMT). Relatively unlikely, but it happens.

The good news is your child can shelter his or her income with the standard deduction. For 2019, the standard deduction for a dependent kid with only investment income is $1,100. If your child has earned income from summer jobs or whatever, the standard deduction equals the lesser of: (1) earned income plus $350 or (2) $12,200. So up to $12,200 of earned income can be sheltered with the standard deduction. Good.

Key Point: Even if no return is required for your child, one should be filed if federal income tax was withheld for any reason and would be refunded if a return is filed. Filing a return is also necessary to benefit from certain beneficial tax elections, such as the election to currently report accrued Savings Bond income that would be sheltered by your kid’s standard deduction.

Who is responsible for filing the kid’s return?

According to IRS Publication 929 (Tax Rules for Children and Dependents), a child is generally responsible for filing his or her own federal income tax return on Form 1040 and for paying any tax, penalties, or interest. If a child cannot file for any reason, the child’s parent, guardian, or other legally responsible person must file for the child. If the child can’t sign the return, a parent or guardian must sign the child’s name followed by the words “By (signature), parent (or guardian) for minor child.” Your child may also need to file a state income tax return. If so, that probably winds up on your plate too.

Key Point: If you sign a return on your child’s behalf, you can deal with the IRS on all matters related to the return. In general, a parent or guardian who doesn’t sign can only provide information concerning the return and pay the child’s tax bill.

Can’t I just report the kid’s income on my own return?

Probably. If your child will be under age 19 (or under age 24 if a full-time student) as of 12/31/19 and his or her only income is from interest and dividends, including mutual fund capital gain distributions, you can generally choose to report the kid’s income on your return by including Form 8814 (Parents’ Election To Report Child’s Interest and Dividends) with your Form 1040. Read the Form 8814 instructions to see if you qualify for this option. If you do, it may or may not result in a lower tax bill for the kid’s income.

What’s that ‘Kiddie Tax’ I’ve heard about?

Good thing you asked. For 2018-2025, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) revamped the Kiddie Tax rules to tax a portion of an affected child’s or young adult’s unearned income at the higher rates paid by trusts and estates. Those rates can be as high as 37% or as high as 20% for long-term capital gains and dividends. Before the TCJA, the Kiddie Tax rate equaled the parent’s marginal rate–which for 2017 could have been as high as 39.6% or 20% for long-term capital gains and dividends.

If your kid is a student, the Kiddie Tax can potentially be an issue until the year the child turns age 24. For that year and future years, your child is finally Kiddie-Tax-exempt.

To calculate the Kiddie Tax, first add up the child’s net earned income and net unearned income. Then subtract the child’s standard deduction to arrive at taxable income. The portion of taxable income that consists of net earned income is taxed at the regular rates for a single taxpayer. The portion of taxable income that consists of net unearned income and that exceeds the unearned income threshold ($2,200 for 2019) is subject to the Kiddie Tax and is taxed at the higher rates that apply to trusts and estates.
Unearned income for purposes of the Kiddie Tax means income other than wages, salaries, professional fees, and other amounts received as compensation for personal services. So, among other things, unearned income includes capital gains, dividends, and interest. Earned income from a job or self-employment is never subject to the Kiddie Tax.

Calculate the Kiddie Tax by completing IRS Form 8615 (Tax for Certain Children Who Have Unearned Income). Then file Form 8615 with your kid’s Form 1040. Beware: the Kiddie Tax rules are complicated

Here are the most-common ones.

$2,000 tax credit for under-age-17 child

For 2018-2025, the TCJA increased the maximum child credit to $2,000 per qualifying child (up from $1,000 under prior law). Up to $1,400 can be refundable, meaning you can collect it even when you don’t owe any federal income tax. Under the TCJA, the income levels at which the child tax credit is phased out are significantly increased, so many more families now qualify for the credit.

$500 tax credit for over-age-16 dependent child

For 2018-2015, the TCJA established a new $500 tax credit that can be claimed for a dependent child (or young adult) who is not under age 17 and who lives with you for over half the year. Dependent means you pay over half the child’s support. However, a child in this category must also pass an income test to be classified as your dependent for purposes of the $500 credit. According to IRS Notice 2018-70, your over-age-16 dependent child passes the income test for 2019 if his or her gross income does not exceed $4,200.

Two higher education tax credits

The American Opportunity credit can be worth up to $2,500 during the first four years of a child’s college education. The Lifetime Learning credit can be worth up to $2,000 annually, and it can cover just about any higher education tuition costs. Both credits are phased out as your income goes up, but the Lifetime Learning credit is phased out at much lower income levels than the American Opportunity credit.

Head of household filing status

HOH filing status is preferable to single filing status because the tax brackets are wider and the standard exemption is bigger. HOH status is available if: (1) your home was for more than half the year the principal home of a qualifying child for whom a personal exemption deduction would be allowed under prior law and (2) your paid more than half the cost of maintaining the home.

Student loan interest deduction

This deduction can be up to $2,500 for qualified student loan interest expense paid by a parent, subject to phase-out for higher-income parents.

The bottom line

There you have it: most of what you need to know about kids and taxes. As always, kids are a chore and an expense. But they usually turn out to be worth it in the end. Fingers crossed.

Credit given to:  Bill Bischoff  of MarketWatch. Article is titled “When kids make money at a summer job, who files their taxes?”

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 | Ohio Small Business Deduction – TAKE IT! August 28, 2019

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

We work with many attorneys for a myriad of reasons. Some specialize in business dealings such as mergers, acquisitions, etc. Mr. Jeff Senney, a prominent business attorney with Pickrel, Schaeffer and Ebeling, wrote the following article which discusses a deduction that owners, or equity investors, of an Ohio business who file an Ohio individual income tax return may be eligible to take each year. The deduction is commonly known as the Ohio Small Business Deduction (SBD) and began in its earliest form in 2013. The SBD allowed the taxpayer to deduct 50% of up to $250,000 of Ohio business income, for a maximum deduction of $125,000. In 2014, the deduction increased to 75% of $250,000 for a maximum deduction of $187,500. Adjustments were required also, such as add-backs for retirement contributions, the self-employment tax deduction, and the self-employed health insurance deduction that were reported on the taxpayer’s federal return for both 2013 and 2014. The deduction remained at 75% for 2015 and the requirement to add back the above-mentioned adjustments was eliminated. In its current form, the deduction is for 100% of $250,000. We hope you enjoy Jeff’s article as reproduced below.

      – Norman S. Hicks, CPA

For 2016 (and subsequent years), each individual small business owner filing single or married filing jointly is eligible for a “small business” income tax deduction (SBD) against their state income tax liability equal to 100% of the first $250,000 of business income the owner receives or is allocated from a sole proprietorship or pass-through entity (“PTE”). Married filing separate taxpayers will be able to deduct 100% of business income in 2016 but only up to $125,000. Any remaining business income above these threshold amounts is taxed at a flat 3% rate.

For tax years 2014 and 2015, the SBD percentage for all taxpayers was only 75%.

PTEs include partnerships, “S” corporations and limited liability companies (“LLCs”). Income generated by the business and passed through to the owners/investors is subject to personal income tax. The deduction was originally applicable only for Ohio-sourced business income. But beginning in tax year 2015, the deduction was expanded to include eligible business income from all sources.

Individuals who directly or indirectly through a tiered structure own at least a 20% interest in profits or capital of a PTE may also include their wages and guaranteed payments from that PTE in the calculation of the SBD. It was not originally clear whether the direct or indirect ownership included constructive ownership from family members. But the Ohio Department of Taxation has recently made clear that stock attribution among family members (such as husband to wife) does not count in determining whether the individual owns the requisite 20% interest.

Taxpayers who failed to claim the SBD on their originally income tax returns should give serious thought to filing amended returns to claim the SBD for all open years. While the SBD is referred to as the “small business deduction,” there is no limit on gross receipts or assets that the PTE can have.

The SBD can be taken not only by Ohio residents on all their business income received, but also by Ohio nonresidents and part-year residents.

While electing to be included in a composite tax return makes financial sense in most states, taxpayers could be missing out on the SBD tax savings available in Ohio. A PTE cannot deduct the SBD on a composite tax return filed on a taxpayer’s behalf, and the SBD cannot be claimed on any other non-individual tax return, such as a trust return and even a nonresident withholding return. Accordingly, if an individual taxpayer has been included in a composite return or has had withholding performed by a PTE, the taxpayer may be paying more Ohio tax than necessary.

Many taxpayers may not have taken the SBD because they mistakenly thought they were required to own 20% or more of a PTE in order to qualify for the SBD. But that is not the case. The 20% ownership requirement only applies to deduction of compensation and guaranteed payments. Taxpayers owning less than 20% are still eligible to claim the SBD on their share of other qualifying business income.

Many taxpayers also do not realize that the 20%-or-more requirement only needs to be met once during a tax year. If an individual owner meets the 20% ownership test at any point during the calendar year, the individual’s entire year of compensation or guaranteed payments may qualify as business income. While not entirely clear, it is likely the Ohio Department of Taxation would try to deny the SBD where a husband and wife transferred ownership back and forth during a year in order to make them both 20% owners on at least one day during the year.

Credit given to Jeff Senney. He can be reached at 937-223-1130 or Jsenney@pselaw.com or https://www.pselaw.com/attorneys/jeffrey-senney. Jeff’s article can be found at: https://www.pselaw.com/ohio-small-business-deduction-take-it/ 

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

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

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | Can S Corporations Save Taxes? Apparently, Some Politicians Think So. August 21, 2019

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

In an effort to save federal income taxes, many people and not just some politicians route their business income through S corporations.  Their profits which may be retained by the S corporation and/or distributed to the shareholder(s) are typically the result of keeping the shareholder’s reasonable wages at a level that assures a corporate profit.  Keeping these reasonable wages below the FICA ceiling ($132,900 for 2019) may save taxes of 15.3% from FICA and Medicare, combined.  If, these wages exceed the FICA ceiling then the potential tax savings drop to only the Medicare tax of 2.9% plus another .9% if individual’s wages are over $200,000 ($250,000 married filing jointly).

The point to be made here is that at the right income levels, significant tax savings may exist with the proper use of an S corporation.  However, these savings come along with the possibility of additional IRS scrutiny.  And, since you may be paying less social security taxes, your future social security benefits may be dinged ever so slightly; but these tax savings are now in your own pocket.

The below WSJ article authored by Richard Rubin covers a portion of this age-old tax saving strategy along with some interesting commentary.

               -Mark Bradstreet

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden used a tax loophole that the Obama administration tried and failed to close, substantially lowering his tax bill.

Mr. Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, routed their book and speech income through S corporations, according to tax returns the couple released this week. They paid income taxes on those profits, but the strategy let the couple avoid the 3.8% net investment income tax they would have paid had they been compensated directly instead of through the S corporations.

The tax savings were as much as $500,000, compared to what the Biden’s would have owed if paid directly or if the Obama proposal had become law.

“As demonstrated by their effective federal tax rate in 2017 and 2018—which exceeded 33%—the Biden’s are committed to ensuring that all Americans pay their fair share,” the Biden campaign said in a statement Wednesday.

The technique is known in tax circles as the Gingrich-Edwards loophole—for former presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, a Republican, and John Edwards, a Democrat—whose tax strategies were scrutinized and drew calls for policy changes years ago. Other prominent politicians, including former President Barack Obama and fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton, as well as current contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, received their book or speech income differently and paid self-employment taxes.

Some tax experts have pointed to pieces of President Trump’s financial disclosures and leaked tax returns to suggest that he has used a similar tax-avoidance strategy.

Unlike his Democratic rivals and predecessors in both parties, Mr. Trump has refused to release his tax returns, and his administration is fighting House Democrats’ attempt to use their statutory authority to obtain them. Democratic presidential candidates have released their tax returns and welcomed criticism to draw a contrast with Mr. Trump.

“There’s no reason for these to be in an S corp—none, other than to save on self-employment tax,” said Tony Nitti, an accountant at RubinBrown LLP who reviewed the returns.

Mr. Biden, who was vice president from 2009 to 2017, has led the Democratic field in polls since entering the race. He is campaigning on making high-income Americans pay more in taxes and on closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy.

Mr. Biden has decried the proliferation of such loopholes since Ronald Reagan’s presidency and said the tax revenue could be used, in part, to help pay for initiatives to provide free community-college tuition or to fight climate change.

“We don’t have to punish anybody, including the rich. But everybody should start paying their fair share a little bit. When I’m president, we’re going to have a fairer tax code,” Mr. Biden said last month during a speech in Davenport, Iowa.

The U.S. imposes a 3.8% tax on high-income households—defined as individuals making above $200,000 and married couples making above $250,000. Wage earners have part of the tax taken out of their paychecks and pay part of it on their returns. Self-employed business owners have to pay it, too. People with investment earnings pay a 3.8% tax as well.

But people with profits from their active involvement in businesses can declare those earnings to be neither compensation nor investment income. The Obama administration proposed closing that gap by requiring all such income to be subject to a 3.8% tax, and it was the largest item on a list of “loophole closers” in a plan Mr. Obama released during his last year in office. The administration estimated that proposal, which didn’t advance in Congress, would have raised $272 billion from 2017 through 2026.

Under current law, S-corporation owners can legally avoid paying the 3.8% tax on their profits as long as they pay themselves “reasonable compensation” that is subject to regular payroll taxes. S corporations are a commonly used form for closely held businesses in which the profits flow through to the owners’ individual tax returns and are taxed there instead of at the business level.

The difficulty is in defining reasonable compensation, and the IRS has had mixed success in challenging business owners on the issue. The Bidens’ S corporations—CelticCapri Corp. and Giacoppa Corp.—reported more than $13 million in combined profits in 2017 and 2018 that weren’t subject to the self-employment tax, while those companies paid them less than $800,000 in salary.

If the entire amount were considered compensation, the Bidens could owe about $500,000. An IRS inquiry might reach a conclusion somewhat short of that.

“The salaries earned by the Bidens are reasonable and were determined in good faith, considering the nature of the entities and the services they performed,” the Biden campaign statement said.

For businesses that generate money from capital investments or from a large workforce, less of the profits stem from the owner’s work, and thus reasonable compensation can be lower. For businesses whose profits are largely attributable to the owner’s work, the case for reasonable compensation that is far below profits is harder to make.

To the extent that the Bidens’ profits came directly from the couple’s consulting and public speaking, “to treat those as other than compensation is pretty aggressive,” said Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, a research group run by a former Obama administration official.

Mr. Nitti said he uses a “call in sick” rule for his clients trying to navigate the reasonable-compensation question: If the owner called in sick, how much money could the company still make?

“The reasonable comp standard is a nebulous one,” Mr. Nitti said. “This is pretty cut and dried. If you’re speaking or writing a book, it’s all attributable to your efforts.”

The IRS puts more energy into cases where the business owners pay so little reasonable compensation that they owe the full Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes of 15.3%, Mr. Nitti said.

In a statement released Tuesday along with the candidate’s tax returns, the Biden campaign noted that the couple employs others through its S corporation and calls the companies a “common method for taxpayers who have outside sources of income to consolidate their earnings and expenses.”

Credit given to: Richard Rubin. This article was written July 10, 2019. You can write to Richard Rubin at richard.rubin@wsj.com—Ken Thomas contributed to this 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.  

This week’s author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | 529 Plans June 5, 2019

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

529 PLANS are confusing! And, that is an understatement…especially since on the surface they seem sooooooooo straightforward. But once you look behind the curtain one can start to see their turns and twists along the way with some far-reaching complications that are rarely considered. Personally, I think their tax savings feature is overrated in many cases…BUT having said that, I am not sure of many better ways to save for someone’s education including that of your grandchildren. American families currently have $329 billion in 529 Plans. Hopefully, these 529 Plans will reduce the need for students’ loans. That would be a blessing!  

Chana R. Schoenberger wrote the following article (The 6 Biggest Questions about ‘529’ Plans) for the WSJ as published on Monday, March 4, 2019.  

                                      –    Mark Bradstreet

Four years ago, we started answering readers’ questions on saving and paying for higher education, especially about how best to use tax-advantaged “529” accounts.

In all, we have answered more than 200 questions, with the help of experts. But readers’ questions continue to pour in, in part because the rules about 529s are so confusing—and keep changing. For instance, families are now allowed to use 529 money to pay for private K-12 schooling, not just college. And the Fafsa financial-aid process now looks back two years, not one, at student income when determining aid.

To mark this column’s fourth anniversary, we revisited six recurring 529 questions that we receive in readers’ emails. We asked two experts to help answer these greatest-hits questions: Michael Frerichs, the state treasurer of Illinois and vice chairman of the College Savings Plans Network, an association of state 529 plan administrators; and Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher and vice president of research at Miami-based Savingforcollege.com.

What is the advantage of 529s over other ways of saving for college?

Experts say that 529 accounts are still one of the best ways to save for college, mainly because of the tax benefits.

When you deposit money in a 529 account, it is considered a gift to the beneficiary. It grows tax-free in the account until you withdraw it for the beneficiary’s qualified educational expenses, which can include tuition, room and board, a computer and certain expenses. If you follow these rules, you don’t incur any tax, state or federal, on withdrawals. Some states also offer tax deductions or credits for investing money in a 529, Mr. Frerichs says. (In some cases, residents must invest in their own state’s plan; other states confer these benefits on any resident contributing to any plan.)

There are other benefits. Anyone can contribute, putting in up to $15,000 annually before paying taxes. You can also pre-fund an account, putting in up to $75,000 ($150,000 for married couples filing jointly) at one time and choosing to use up to five years’ worth of your annual pretax limit, Mr. Frerichs says.

What’s more, “most plans have very low minimum-contribution limits, and most accounts are protected from creditors’ claims in bankruptcy, making them attractive to families regardless of income level,” says Mr. Frerichs.

If my child ends up not using all the money in the 529 for educational purposes, how can we withdraw it or use it?

This is one of the most advantageous features of a 529 account: “There is no time limit on when the money in a 529 plan must be used, so you could just keep the money in the 529 plan account, earning tax-free returns,” Mr. Kantrowitz says.

Your child may wish to go to graduate school later on. You also have the option to switch the beneficiary of the account to any of the original beneficiary’s direct relatives, including siblings, cousins or even yourself.

“You don’t need to be pursuing a degree or certificate, so you can use 529 plan money to pay for continuing education,” Mr. Kantrowitz says.

If you leave the money in the account, your grandchildren could one day use it—even if they aren’t yet born today.

“A 529 plan is a great way of leaving a legacy for future generations,” he says.

If you choose to take the money out of the account without using it for qualified educational purposes, you will incur a 10% federal penalty on the gains portion of any withdrawals, plus federal and state income tax on gains, says Mr. Frerichs. Some plans may also charge extra fees or penalties if you withdraw money in this manner, he says.

You won’t have to pay the penalties if you withdraw the money because your child has received a scholarship or because you’re using the American Opportunity Tax Credit for higher education, Mr. Kantrowitz says. But you may have to repay any state-tax benefits you’ve received if you make a nonqualified withdrawal.

What is the best way to have a 529 account for financial-aid purposes: owned by the grandparents or owned by the parents?

“From a financial-aid perspective, it is generally better to have a 529 plan be owned by the student’s parents than the grandparents,” Mr. Kantrowitz says. You can work around this, but it is complex.

The key here is understanding the way that financial aid is computed. Most colleges use the federal government’s standardized Fafsa (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) online application to decide how much money a family can afford to pay for college—the Expected Family Contribution, or EFC—and how much they will need in scholarships or loans. (Some colleges use a different form, the CSS Profile.)

$329 billion?

The amount that American families have in ‘529’ plans, or an average $24,153 an account.

—College Savings Plans Network

“The smaller the percent value included in the EFC, the greater the potential financial aid,” Mr. Frerichs says.

Colleges make this decision by scrutinizing a family’s income and assets as well as their obligations, such as the number of other children they have in college. When they look at 529s, they note the ownership of the account. If a parent owns the account, or if it is a custodial 529 with the parent as custodian, the account is considered at 5.64% of its value. That is much lower than an account the student owns outright, such as an UGMA or UTMA savings or brokerage account, which would be considered at 20%, Mr. Frerichs says.

If anyone else owns the 529 account, whether it is a grandparent or any other person, that account doesn’t show up on the FAFSA as an asset at all. But when the student begins withdrawing money from the account to pay for school, the money is considered untaxed income on the following year’s FAFSA. That will cut financial-aid eligibility by as much as half of the withdrawal, Mr. Kantrowitz says.

For instance, he says, $10,000 in a parent-owned 529 plan might reduce aid eligibility by as much as $564, which is a lot less than the $5,000 reduction in financial aid for $10,000 in a grandparent-owned 529 plan when the student begins making withdrawals.

If you have a grandparent-owned account and want to get around this problem, there are some fixes. You can switch the account owner to the parent, although some plans don’t allow this unless the original owner has died.

You can wait until you’ve filed the FAFSA, then roll over a year’s worth of distributions from your grandparent-owned 529 into a parent-owned one in the same state’s plan (otherwise, you risk sparking state-tax consequences).

“If you wait until after the FAFSA is filed and use the money before the next FAFSA, it will have no impact on aid eligibility,” Mr. Kantrowitz says.

You can also withdraw money for a qualified expense after Jan. 1 of the student’s sophomore year (if the student plans to finish in four years; otherwise, do this two years before the student intends to graduate). The FAFSA looks back two years, so this will mean that the grandparent-owned plan won’t affect financial aid for college at all. However, this strategy won’t work if the student plans to apply for financial aid for graduate school right after finishing college, he warns.

You always have the option to take the money out of a grandparent’s 529 after college is finished and use it to pay off student loans, but that is an unqualified expense, so expect to pay the penalties and taxes on the earnings portion, he says.

How can we maximize our child’s eligibility for financial aid while still saving as much as we are able to pay for college?

Your best bet here is to use a 529 with the parent as the owner and the student as the beneficiary. “In particular, the money is reported as a parent asset on the FAFSA, so you’re no worse off from a financial-aid perspective than if you had saved in a taxable account in the parent’s name, though you do have significant tax savings,” Mr. Kantrowitz says.

One way to save for college without any impact on financial aid is to open a Roth IRA or qualified annuity in the student’s name. These are treated like grandparent-owned 529s: They’re not counted as assets on the FAFSA, but once you withdraw money to pay for college, it is considered untaxed income to the student, and counted at up to 50%, even if your withdrawal is a tax-free return of Roth IRA contributions, Mr. Kantrowitz says.

The benefit of a Roth IRA for this purpose is it hedges against the possibility that your student won’t go to college; this way, at least you’ll have started saving for the student’s eventual retirement in a tax-advantaged manner.

If your student comes into a large amount of money suddenly, and you’d like to get it out of the FAFSA’s view, annuities are the easiest way. Qualified annuities are ignored as assets on the Fafsa.

“Or invest the money in a small business that is owned and controlled by the family, taking advantage of the small-business exclusion on the Fafsa,” Mr. Kantrowitz says.

Note that these considerations don’t mean that you are better off not saving for college, on the hope that the college will give your student a scholarship. Scholarships are unusual, and full scholarships extremely rare. If you want to avoid student loans, to the extent possible, you should save as much as you can, even if it means your EFC is a bit higher than it would otherwise be.

“It is important to note that saving for college is highly beneficial and will have very limited impact on any potential financial aid,” Mr. Frerichs says.

Is it advisable to use 529 money for K-12 schooling, or should we save it for college?

It is certainly your option, under the new tax law, to use the money for private kindergarten-to-12 tuition and some expenses (though some states aren’t yet conforming to that federal change, as far as state taxes). But this negates the main benefit of 529s.

“529 plans are most attractive to parents because they can save for a longer period of time and prepare for the rising costs of higher-education expenses,” Mr. Frerichs says.

Some people think that sending their children to private school will help their chances of winning a college scholarship. But that is only partially true, Mr. Kantrowitz says. Private-high-school graduates win on average about $1,000 more in scholarships to college, but they’re also more likely to enroll at private colleges, which are more expensive than public colleges. This means that spending family 529 money to pay for private school won’t necessarily mean that the student will face smaller tuition bills for college.

Because your earnings will compound over time, you should start by saving for college first so your money will have time to grow, he says. You would also want a different mix of investments for K-12 school and for college, since you might wish to downshift the riskiness of your investments as tuition bills get closer. If you choose to use 529 money for a K-12 school, you might consider opening two separate 529 accounts for your student, so you can change the investment mix, Mr. Kantrowitz says.

The Savingforcollege.com site has a calculator you can use to explore the trade-offs.

What are the consequences if I change the owner of a 529 account?

Most plans permit the owner to name a successor in case of death, and some also allow a joint account owner.

If your plan permits you to change ownership, note that such a change might affect your student’s eligibility for financial aid (see question above). The owner is the person who holds full control over the beneficiary’s money in the account, so be careful to choose an owner you trust if it isn’t yourself, Mr. Kantrowitz says.

For plans that don’t allow ownership changes, you could roll over the balance of your 529 into a different 529 for the benefit of the same student or a member of the beneficiary’s family. It is also possible to do this manually, by taking a distribution from the original account and contributing it to another account within 60 days, Mr. Kantrowitz says. You may need to locate both accounts in the same state for tax purposes.

Be careful that the new account represents the rollover money correctly, with the new statement showing what money you contributed and what was gains, he says.

Credit Given to:  Chana R. Schoenberger. Ms. Schoenberger is a writer in New York. She can be reached at reports@wsj.com. This appeared in the March 4, 2019, print edition as ‘What You Need to Know About the New Tax Law and The 6 Biggest Questions About ‘529’ Plans.’

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 | Hmmm…When Should I Get Married? May 15, 2019

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

As long as I can remember, the IRS has penalized couples for being married with higher income taxes (as opposed to being single). However, the latest tax laws have significantly reduced; and, even in many cases, eliminated the so-called “marriage penalty.” Now, for many couples, the “marriage penalty” does not exist until their combined taxable income hits the top marginal income tax bracket of 37%. If these high-income couples are considering a wedding late in the year – they may wish to consider waiting to marry early the next year instead.  

On the other hand, the “marriage penalty” does still exist when considering some of the tax deductions. For example, only one $10,000 state and local tax ceiling on itemized deductions is available for a married couple. If single, each would have the same $10,000 available for their state and local tax deductions. Other scenarios might include when one spouse has significant unreimbursed medical expenses or circumstances surrounding the 20% Qualified Business Income Deduction. 

The tax filing status of married filing separately is still an option but not as beneficial as it once was. But, regardless, the numbers still need run to optimize the best filing status.  

An article written by Ms. Winokur Munk published in the WSJ on Monday, March 18, 2019 follows. It delves further into the tax ramifications of being married.

– Mark Bradstreet

Among many things, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 affected the so-called marriage penalty, which occurs when a couple’s total tax bill rises as a result of getting married and filing their taxes jointly.

Under the old tax code, the marriage penalty hit medium- to high-income earners particularly hard. That had to do with differences in the income-tax brackets for married couples vs. individuals. Now, however, those brackets have been adjusted to eliminate those discrepancies—except for taxpayers who are subject to the top 37% marginal rate.

The 37% marginal tax rate kicks in at taxable income above $500,000 for single individuals, or over $600,000 for married couples filing jointly—so two people with income well below $500,000 each can be pushed into the highest bracket if they’re married and filing together.

Meanwhile, a marriage penalty remains in place for some other federal taxes, and a new one has been created by new limitations on deductions.

What impact will the tax-law changes have on married couples, and what do couples planning to tie the knot need to know about how their planned nuptials could affect their taxes?

The Wall Street Journal invited three experts to discuss these issues: Mitchell Drossman, national director of wealth-planning strategies at U.S. Trust; Mela Garber, a tax principal at accounting firm Anchin, Block & Anchin; and Robert Westley, a vice president and wealth adviser at Northern Trust and member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ Personal Financial Specialist Credential Committee.

Here are edited excerpts of the discussion.

Savings and penalties

WSJ: Can you provide an example or two of how the marriage penalty might affect couples under the new law?

MS. GARBER: Under the old law, two single taxpayers who earned $95,000 and $125,000 would have had a combined tax bill of $41,965 after the standard deduction and personal exemptions, whereas filing jointly as a married couple they would have had to pay $42,661—a marriage penalty of $696. Under the new rules, however, the couple would pay a total of $35,619 in taxes, $7 less than the single filers.

MR. DROSSMAN: Even for taxpayers who are high wage earners, the marriage penalty generally isn’t as significant as it once was. If two single people are each earning $350,000, their individual tax liability would be $94,000 each—$188,000 in total. However, by getting married and filing a joint return, their tax liability becomes $189,500. Under those circumstances, the marriage penalty is $1,500, whereas under the previous tax laws the marriage penalty would have been in the neighborhood of $24,000—a significant difference.

WSJ: So, the new tax law reduces the marriage penalty in those cases. Where does it increase the marriage penalty?

MR. WESTLEY: A marriage penalty can also occur on the deduction side. For example, the new tax act limits the deduction for state and local taxes to $10,000. That means two single taxpayers can each deduct their own state and local taxes up to $10,000. However, as a married couple, they are limited to the same $10,000 deduction cap, since it’s not doubled for married couples filing joint tax returns. Filing separately does not avoid the disparate treatment, since married taxpayers filing separately are limited to a $5,000 deduction.

MS. GARBER: The $10,000 state income- and property-tax deduction cap will hit especially hard for taxpayers who live in states that have high income and property taxes, such as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California.

MR. DROSSMAN: In addition, under the new law couples still have to contend with the Medicare surtax and the surtax on net investment income. Both surtaxes apply to individuals with earnings above $200,000 or married couples with income over $250,000.

Easing the pain

WSJ: What can couples do to mitigate the effects of a marriage penalty?

MR. WESTLEY: For high-wage-earning couples, it might make sense for one person to scale back on work so as not to reach the income threshold where the penalty kicks in. Given added hassles and expenses that can come with working, it’s a conversation that’s at least worth having.

MR. DROSSMAN: Even with the new tax rules, high-earning couples thinking about a late-year wedding may be better off deferring it until the following year if they can save some taxes.

WSJ: Are there publicly available tools to help couples decide whether it pays to file as individuals or jointly?

MR. WESTLEY: Yes, the Tax Policy Center has a great calculator that can help taxpayers understand how their tax liability will change as a result of getting married. Another excellent resource for taxpayers is the Marginal Tax Rate Calculator from the AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy website. This calculator allows you to estimate your income-tax liability and choose between different filing statuses to see how the results differ. Still, there are many possible tax situations and nuances, so I think most taxpayers would benefit from working closely with a trusted professional.

Marriage prep

WSJ: What tax-related advice do you have for couples getting married?

MR. WESTLEY: I think many couples assume that filing separately when they are married is the same as filing as a single taxpayer. But once you’re married, you no longer have the option to file as a single taxpayer. While you can file separately as a married couple, in most cases filing separately is likely to raise their overall household tax bill.

There can be, however, a few situations where it may make economic sense to file separately. If, for example, one spouse has significant unreimbursed medical expenses and both spouses are income earners, filing separately will lower their adjusted gross income and allow the spouse with high unreimbursed medical expenses to achieve a greater deduction amount.

However, couples need to remember that when filing separately both spouses must either itemize or use the standard deduction. Therefore, if only one spouse has enough itemized deductions to exceed the current standard deduction, filing separately may not save tax for the household in the aggregate.

The creation of the 20% qualified business income deduction under the new act is a new area that may induce some couples to file separately. When one spouse qualifies for the 20% QBI deduction but the other spouse’s income pushes the couple over the phaseout threshold, filing separately may be advantageous.

Again, there are many quirks with the married-filing-separately tax status, so it’s imperative to go through the actual calculations with a qualified professional. Married-filing-separately is generally unfavorable, since it limits or disqualifies the use of many tax breaks that couples filing jointly can otherwise take.

MS. GARBER: It may benefit a couple getting married to do tax planning and prepare a projected tax return. This exercise may save them money when the time comes to file their first joint tax return. For example, if they are charitable and intend to give donations, given that the standard deduction increased substantially under the new tax law, they may want to consider bunching and combining two or more years’ worth of donations into one year to get the benefit of their deduction. Otherwise, the risk is that neither year’s contributions will be eligible for the deduction.

The projected return should also show whether the couple’s investments are aligned with their income-tax bracket. For instance, if two individuals have investments in taxable bonds, which worked well when they were filing as singles, it may no longer be beneficial to hold these types of bonds. Perhaps they should switch to municipal bonds, because combining their income together will push them up into higher tax brackets. Preparation of their projected tax return will show which investments will generate higher net-of-tax returns.

Credit Given to:  Cheryl Winokur Munk.  Ms. Winokur Munk is a writer in West Orange, N.J. Email her at reports@wsj.com. Appeared in the March 18, 2019, print edition as ‘Does It Pay (Taxwise) To Get Married?’

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 | Was Your Tax Refund What You Wanted? May 8, 2019

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

Many taxpayers were surprised this year by the amount of their tax refund or their tax balance due. Most refunds were less than the prior year and those who typically owe money, owed more. There were also those people who normally received a refund who were now dismayed to discover a balance due. Even tax preparers were surprised to the extent of these tax refund reductions or additional amounts due. Yes, multiple warnings were issued by the “Chicken Littles” during the year. Well, these “Chicken Littles” turned out to be correct. The new 2018 withholding tables not only gave you an early refund from the new tax law BUT some “extra.” This “extra” is what reduced your withholdings which lead to the nasty tax return surprises. Adding insult to injury, your 2019 refunds (or balances due) may be even worse since the new 2018 withholding tables were not for a full year. They may have started as late as February 15, 2018 (and I am sure some employers began later than that.) So, if you want your bottom line on your tax return to look like times of old – better increase your withholding now.

The below WSJ article published April 13-14, 2019 by Laura Saunders further explains this situation along with some possible remedies.  

                                                          –    Mark Bradstreet

Congratulations American taxpayers, you made it through the first filing season after the largest tax overhaul in a generation. Now do yourself a favor and check your withholding.

For weeks, news articles, message boards, and family dinners have been filled with unhappy taxpayers lamenting tax-refund shortfalls or surprise bills. For many, that’s because they didn’t watch their withholding.

Among them is Alaric DeArment, a 36-year-old biotechnology journalist in New York City.

He got a tax cut from the overhaul, as did two-thirds of American households. For 2018, his federal bill is $2,400 lower than in 2017. But his tax cut didn’t feel like one, he says, because he didn’t know that last year the Treasury Department lowered paycheck withholding for millions of workers in order to speed up delivery of the tax cuts.

So, his customary tax refund of between $1,000 and $3,000 became a surprise tax bill of $785 this year. As a result, Mr. DeArment can’t use a refund to help pay for a trip to Eastern Europe or a new laptop, as he planned. Instead, he’s paying his tax due in installments.

“It’s horrible, a bummer,” he says. He says he’ll change his withholding soon.

So far, about 1.2 million fewer filers are getting refunds compared with last year, according to the latest data from the Internal Revenue Service. Total refunds are down by about $5.8 billion, or 2.6%. The average refund is $2,833, down $31 from this time last year.

This data doesn’t measure the number of filers who have gotten unwelcome surprises this year, such as a lower refund or higher payment due, because of the withholding changes.

Tax preparers say there are many. Don Rosenberg, an enrolled agent in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., says that despite the overall tax cuts, 75% of his clients are unhappy with their tax results this year, many of them because of withholding changes.

“Anybody who says refund size doesn’t matter should sit in my office for a week,” he says.

The emotional response to tax refunds or bills has a logic of its own. People often use tax refunds to help with big purchases, although it means they’ve made an interest-free loan to Uncle Sam by letting the government have more of their money during the year.

The bottom line: If you’re upset by this year’s refund or tax bill, consider changing your withholding to prevent a rerun next year.

Tax specialists at H&R Block, which prepares 20 million returns a year, warn that many filers with smaller refunds this year are set for even lower ones for 2019, because Treasury’s withholding changes will be in effect for the full year. The average refund for this group will be $200 lower next year without adjustments to withholding, based on analysis of their clients.

In addition, the IRS approved broad waivers of penalties on 2018 underpayments. These likely won’t be extended for 2019, and most filers need to pay 90% of what they owe during the year to avoid penalties. Here’s more information about changing your withholding.

Know the options. You can consult a tax preparer, but there are ways to do it yourself. The simplest is to take the additional total amount you want withheld, based on this year’s outcome, and divide it by remaining paychecks. Then put that on the IRS’s Form W-4 and give it to your employer.

You can also recalculate your withholding using the W-4 form, but this can be confusing. The IRS hasn’t finished a redesign following the overhaul, and a proposal released last year proved controversial because it asked workers to share private information with employers. An update is due soon.

You can also use an IRS calculator to figure what you’ll owe for 2019. It allows inputs for more than one earner, investment income and more. Users need their most recent tax return plus recent pay stubs and perhaps other information.

Make good use of paycheck withholding. Do you have nonwage income, as from outside gigs or investments? To avoid penalties, you may need to pay quarterly taxes on this income. If so, it often makes sense to increase paycheck withholding instead, as it’s not subject to the same timing requirements as quarterly payments. 

For example, taxes on nonwage earnings from the first quarter are due April 15 in order to avoid penalties. But if the same taxes are paid through increased withholding in November, there are often no penalties.

Pay attention to pensions. Withholding was lowered for pension payments as well as for paychecks. If you want to raise it, use Form W-4P.

Beware of bonuses. The tax overhaul cut the withholding on bonuses from 25% to 22%, so that can contribute to lower refunds or higher tax bills. Employers will withhold more if requested.

Credit given to Laura Saunders. Write to Laura Saunders at laura.saunders@wsj.com.

Thank you for all of your questions, comments and suggestions for future topics. As always, they are much appreciated. We also welcome and appreciate anyone who wishes to write a Tax Tip of the Week for our consideration.  

We may be reached in our Dayton office at 937-436-3133 or in our Xenia office at 937-372-3504. Or, visit our website.  

This Week’s Author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | Nanny Taxes May 1, 2019

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

With the last day of school fast approaching, it is time to consider child care during the summer months.

Instead of sending children to day care or summer day camp, many parents consider hiring a nanny or frequent baby sitter to watch their children. As if balancing work and childrearing is not challenging enough, if parents get outside help to care for their children at home, they will also need to understand the tax implications. Unless they are tax experts, they probably have a few questions about how to do things correctly.

If parents have a nanny or frequent babysitter watching their children at home, that person is considered a household employee if she is in charge of what work is done and how it is done (which is usually the case). It does not matter whether the person works full time or part time, or that the person was hired through an agency or from a list provided by an agency or association. It also does not matter whether the person is paid for the job on an hourly, daily or weekly basis.

On the flipside, someone providing childcare services in his or her own home is not a household employee of the parents. Likewise if an agency provides the worker and the agency is in charge of what work is done and how it is done, the worker is not a household employee of the parents.

As a household employee, a nanny or frequent baby sitter is going to cost parents more than the rate they pay for watching their children. In addition to paying the employee’s wages, they may be required to pay household employment taxes, popularly referred to as the “nanny tax.”

The nanny tax involves two separate employment taxes. Whether the parents are responsible for either depends on the amount they pay.

First is FICA, which consists of Social Security and Medicare taxes. FICA is a 15.3 percent tax on cash wages that is generally split equally between the employer and employee. Parents and their household employee each pay 7.65 percent—which is 6.2 percent Social Security tax plus 1.45 percent Medicare tax.

In 2015, the IRS required anyone with a household employee to withhold and pay FICA for any employee with annual cash wages of $1,900 or more.

Second is FUTA (federal unemployment tax). The FUTA tax is 6.0% of your employee’s FUTA wages. However, you may be able to take a credit of up to 5.4% against the FUTA tax, resulting in a net tax rate of 0.6%. Your credit for 2019 is limited unless you pay all the required contributions for 2019 to your state unemployment fund by April 15, 2020. The credit you can take for any contributions for 2019 that you pay after April 15, 2020, is limited to 90% of the credit that would have been allowable if the contributions were paid on or before that day.

Note:  Don’t withhold the FUTA tax from your employee’s wages. You must pay it from your own funds.

The rules and reporting of “nanny wages” and “nanny taxes” get pretty complicated real quick.

The important thing to remember is that if you pay someone more than $1,900 this summer, you need to give us a call.

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.