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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 | Health Care Plans Gain More Flexibility August 14, 2019

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

On June 13, 2019, the IRS issued final regulations regarding health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs).  These types of plans were radically changed and restricted by the Affordable Care Act. The new regulations reinstate the ability of employers to use HRAs to reimburse employees who buy their own health insurance, but the rules can be fairly complicated in certain situations. The full set of rules can be found in the federal register at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/06/20/2019-12571/health-reimbursement-arrangements-and-other-account-based-group-health-plans. In pdf form (and in typical IRS fashion), this article is 140 pages long. It appears to be a collaboration between the IRS, the Employee Benefits Security Administration, the Department of Labor, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and the Department of Health and Human Services, and is titled “Health Reimbursement Arrangements and Other Account-Based Group Health Plans”. 

Following is a nice (and much smaller) article published on June 24, 2019, by Jessica Kuester of Taft Stettinius & Hollister, LLP, which helps explain some of the provisions of the new rules, such as who can and cannot be covered, types of HRAs, effective dates, and other features and restrictions of the new HRA regulations.

                                                   –Norman S. Hicks, CPA

Final Regulations Allow Employers to Pay For Employees’ Health Insurance Premiums

Health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) are a very flexible type of group health plan—they allow employers to reimburse employees for certain medical expenses on a pre-tax basis. Based on the IRS’s interpretation of changes in law that were enacted by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), these arrangements lost most of the flexibility that they had been able to provide for over 50 years. Although HRAs could be integrated with major medical plans offered by employers (i.e., a so-called “integrated HRA”), they could not be offered on a stand-alone basis without the employer incurring a $36,500 per year per participant excise tax. In effect, this meant that employers could no longer reimburse employees for the cost of premiums incurred when purchasing health insurance. New regulations (issued on June 13, 2019) bring back some of the flexibility of HRAs.

What is the new type of HRA?

In a so-called “individual coverage HRA,” employers can reimburse employees for medical expenses (including premiums) that they incur on a pre-tax basis. For each month that they are covered by the individual coverage HRA, employees must be covered by individual health insurance (either offered on the ACA Exchange or not), and employers must substantiate such coverage.

Who can be covered by an individual coverage HRA?

An individual coverage HRA cannot be offered to any employee offered a traditional employer-sponsored group health plan. This means that employees cannot be given a choice between the employer’s traditional group health plan and an individual coverage HRA—employers can only offer one or the other. However, employers can decide to offer an individual coverage HRA to one or more class of employees and a traditional group health plan to the other classes. The acceptable classes are full-time employees, part-time employees, seasonal employees, employees working in the same geographic location (such as the same state or same insurance rating area), collectively bargained employees, salaried employees, hourly employees and newly-hired vs. existing employees. These are only a few examples: there are other types of classes identified in the regulations and additional classes can be formed by combining any of the acceptable classes. In addition, minimum class size rules (generally, 20 class members) apply to employers offering a traditional group health plan to some classes and an Individual Coverage HRA to other classes.

How much can employers reimburse under an individual coverage HRA?

Just like with other types of HRAs, employers can reimburse as much or as little as they want. However, the individual coverage HRA must be offered on the same terms to all employees in the class. So although the amount of reimbursement can vary between classes, they generally cannot vary among the class members (except for variations based on an employee’s age or the number of dependents).

How do employers offer an individual coverage HRA?

Employers offering an individual coverage HRA must notify eligible participants about the individual coverage HRA and its interaction with the premium tax credit that is available to certain individuals under federal tax law. Although the individual coverage HRA itself is considered an employer-sponsored group health plan, the underlying health insurance coverage purchased by the employee is not, so long as the employee’s purchase of the insurance coverage is voluntary, the employer does not select or endorse any particular insurance carrier or coverage, the employer does not receive any kickbacks for an employee’s selection of any particular individual health insurance and each employee is notified annually that the individual health insurance they select is not subject to ERISA.

What about the employer mandate?

The good news: an employer’s offer of reimbursement through an individual coverage HRA counts as an offer of coverage for purposes of the ACA’s employer mandate. The bad news: although the new regulations offer guidance on when an individual coverage HRA will be considered “affordable” for purposes of the premium tax credit, the IRS has not yet issued rules describing when the coverage will be considered “affordable” for purposes of the employer mandate. These rules are likely coming soon.

Are there any other types of new HRAs available under the new regulations?

The new regulations also create an excepted benefit HRA. The excepted benefit HRA is different than the individual coverage HRA in that it only reimburses the employee for costs incurred in connection with “excepted benefits” (such as dental and vision benefits). This new excepted benefit HRA is an HRA offered as part of an employer’s traditional group health program and can reimburse medical expenses even when the employee opts out of the group health plan itself. This is a departure from the current rules that apply to integrated HRAs, which only permit reimbursement of medical expenses when the employee actually enrolls in the group health plan.

The excepted benefit HRA:

When can employers start offering these new types of HRAs?

The new types of HRAs can be offered beginning on Jan. 1, 2020. Note that, in order to start offering coverage under the individual coverage HRA on that date, employers will need to take action before then.  Most notably, the required notice must be provided prior to Jan. 1, and employees will need to take part in the 2020 open enrollment period for individual coverage, which typically occurs in late 2019.

Jessica E. Kuester is an attorney with Taft Stettinius & Hollister, LLP and represents employers in all of their employee benefit needs. She can be reached at jkuester@taftlaw.com. Her article, as reproduced above, can be found at https://www.taftlaw.com/news-events/law-bulletins/final-regulations-allow-employers-to-pay-for-employees-health-insurance-premiums.

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 | How to Avoid being Overwhelmed in Times of Death and Illness? August 7, 2019

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

What do you do when one spouse refuses to be or has not been invited to be involved with finances but then an unexpected death or illness occurs?

Dealing with death and illness is a difficult time for a spouse and the family, no matter the circumstances. When the spouse is unaware of how the finances have been handled, it may lead to frozen accounts and assets. Gary Altman, an estate planning attorney in Rockville, MD., explained that it is common to find families in this situation. He recently had a client who had to ask her brother-in-law for financial assistance. Altman stated that his client did not have enough money in their joint accounts. She was unable to make ends meet because the accounts were in her husband’s name alone and the financial institutions will freeze the single-owner accounts when a person dies. 

Financial professionals and attorneys know that these times are sensitive, delicate and trying. They also have encountered many times that the surviving spouse who was hands-off has to deal with missing information and does not have complete knowledge of their net worth or where accounts are held. The surviving spouse will most likely be overwhelmed with the financial decisions while trying to cope with the day to day emotions of grief and loss. Grieving can cause a person to have high emotions, which may lead to unclear decisions. According to Susan Bradley, founder of Sudden Money Institute, grief can reduce cognitive capacity. She recommends that the surviving spouse focus on what is important or pressing during this time. For example, the survivor should pay the bills that are essential to live each day. Slowing down and realizing what is truly important throughout this time will allow prioritizing urgent matters, most importantly, dealing with emotions and getting through the day one step at a time. The surviving spouse should wait until he or she is no longer in shock to make financial decisions and understand their financial needs. 

Here are steps couples should take to prevent frozen accounts when faced with death or illness:

1.    Hire a financial planner who specializes in estate settlement and an accountant to file tax returns for state and/or federal estate tax returns. Establishing a financial advisor, that both spouses like and trust, can reduce these overwhelming decisions that one might need to make without an advisor. Each spouse should be confident and comfortable with this person.

2.    Make sure both spouses give the executor permission to manage digital assets. Enabling both spouses to have access to and control over assets will reduce potential problems in the situation of death or illness. Another way to ensure immediate access is by stating “transferable on death.” This may be done when the couple sets up the account. 

3.    Stay up to date with your online service software to track every account and asset. This will ensure secure accounts and assets. Assets that are jointly held or are held in the survivor’s name alone are protected, unless the survivor co-signed or guaranteed the debts.

Here are steps a surviving spouse should take when dealing with death or illness:

1.    Order multiple copies of the death certificate to use to reassign financial accounts and settle the estate. The death certificate will allow you to contact the spouse’s employer to ask about a 401(k), pension, stock options and life insurance, etc.  

2.    Contact the estate attorney, accountant and financial adviser. Update your will after shock has worn off. 

3.    Gather and rename household bills, bank, brokerage, insurance, and credit-card statements in your name alone. 

4.    Create a new financial plan after you have understood immediate expenses and are able to make long-term decisions. 

Credit given to:  Tergesen, A. (2019, March 29). Estate Planning for the Uninitiated. 

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 – Brianna Anello

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | Growing up to be Entrepreneurs July 31, 2019

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

While the majority of us will spend most of our careers working for someone else, having an entrepreneurial spirit or background can open up new possibilities and ways to approach everyday life. The following article was published in the Wall Street Journal on April 28, 2019 by Molly Baker.

                              -Brianna Anello

From the very beginning, Bob Burch has exposed his children to entrepreneurship. When his first daughter, Neely, was born, Bob Burch’s first instinct was to introduce Neely to the office. So, he brought her by to show her off on their way back from the hospital. This poses the famous question on whether entrepreneurs are born or made? Throughout the Burch family this can be seen in both aspects. Entrepreneurships started with Mr. Burch and his brother Chris. They are the founders of a successful retail clothing line, Tony Burch. 

Mr. Burch believes a crucial part of becoming an entrepreneur is nurturing a sense of entrepreneurship. Immersion started at an early age for the Burch children, from encouraging local lemonade sales to teaching them what you need to start a business, to going across the country to show his family potential business ventures. They believe that entrepreneurs should be independent, creative and persistent when wanting to start their own business. These experiences have taught the Burch family lessons that they will hold close to their heart for the rest of their lives. 

Today the three oldest children are travelling the same path as their father, in becoming successful entrepreneurs. Roby, Bob’s son, will never forget his dad’s words of wisdom, “I can’t teach you how to be a lawyer, and I can’t teach you how to be a doctor. I can teach you how to be in business for yourself and how to be good at it.” The Burch children believe their parents, Bob and Susan, never really had certain hopes and dreams for their careers. Bob and Susan wanted their children to think beyond what college they wanted to attend or what they wanted to be when they grew up. They encouraged their children to think big. The process to thinking big included engaging and debating at the dinner table over work ideas. Bob explains that there is no such thing as solo effort. This process is a team effort and will enable the children to release their creativity. At the table, the children also absorbed business lingo and the strategies that they may use one day.

Entrepreneurship is about having the “ready for anything” mindset. One example Bob recalls is the most memorable turnaround story. When he was launching his first fashion show, the first truckload of products arrived and the sweaters had sleeves three inches too short. At this time, he didn’t have the time or money to replace them. Bob and his brother were on their toes. They created a design where Oxford shirt sleeves were rolled over the misfit sweater. It allowed them to showcase their go-to fashion and created opportunity to be successful and avoid potential failure. Because of this fashion show the business earned $100 million in annual sales. 

All of these lessons have influenced the Burch children’s careers. In college, Chloe and Neely pursued online ventures separately. Since they have joined forces, their handbags line is in more than 140 retailers nationwide. Their experiences have even helped their younger brother Roby. Roby is currently trying to launch a premium outdoor lifestyle brand. Bob believes that working as a team has not only created a bond between them, but will lead them to a more fulfilling life.

Credit given to:  Baker, M. (2019, April 29). A Generation of Siblings, Raised to Be Entrepreneurs. 

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 – Brianna Anello

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | IRS Audit Rate Falls – Should You Relax? July 24, 2019

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

I cringe every time the newspaper headlines read that the IRS audit rate is falling. My worries are that our clients may become lazy on their record keeping along with the retention of appropriate supporting business documentation (e.g. receipts, cancelled checks, deposits slips, paid bills, invoices, etc.). Thankfully, my fears have remained unfounded as the stakes are too high with the IRS to become complacent.

As a side note, many taxpayers fail to realize that if your record keeping is poor – the IRS simply won’t use your records. Instead, the IRS may consider all of your deposits as taxable income whether they were otherwise taxable or not. And, if no supporting documentation was retained then all of your expenses may be disallowed. Ouch!

On May 21, 2019, the WSJ ran an article authored by Richard Rubin, IRS’s Audit Rate Continues to Fall. This article below shares further insights on who is being audited and to what extent the IRS budget is being increased.  

                                                                    -Mark Bradstreet

WASHINGTON—The Internal Revenue Service audited just 0.59% of individual tax returns last year, marking the seventh consecutive annual decline as the tax agency copes with smaller budgets and fewer workers.

That total was down from 0.62% the year before and hit the lowest mark since 2002, according to data released Monday.

Audits of the highest-income households dropped sharply, to their lowest levels since the IRS began reporting that data in 2008. In fiscal 2018, the IRS audited 6.66% of returns of filers with more than $10 million in adjusted gross income, down from 14.52% in 2017. Among households with income between $1 million and $5 million, the audit rate dropped from 3.52% to 2.21%.

The IRS released the data as it is trying to persuade Congress to make long-run investments in the agency’s technology and enforcement staff. So far, however, key Republicans in Congress remain skeptical, and there are mixed signals about whether the government will reverse the steady decline in tax enforcement.

“I’m not averse to beefing up their budget a little bit but I want to see results,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R., La.), who heads the subcommittee that oversees the IRS budget. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in the new commissioner and in the new secretary, but I’m not into just throwing money at the wall because the bureaucracy says we need more.”

President Trump has proposed boosting the IRS’s budget by 1.5% for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, to $11.5 billion from $11.3 billion, including a down payment on improving the agency’s technology.

The administration also is proposing a $15 billion, decadelong increase in IRS enforcement funding, which the agency says would generate $47 billion in additional federal revenue. That net gain of more than $30 billion would come from enforcing existing laws.

The IRS has been shrinking steadily, partly because electronic filing has increased its efficiency. But many of the recent changes have stemmed from Republican spending cuts after they took control of the House in 2011 and after the IRS said in 2013 that it had improperly scrutinized some conservative nonprofit groups.

Adjusted for inflation, the 2019 IRS budget is smaller than in 2000 and is 19% below peak funding in 2010, according to the Government Accountability Office. The agency’s workforce declined 4% in 2018 and is now 21% below where it was eight years ago, and the number of examiners that performs audits shrunk 38% from 2010 to 2017, according to the agency’s inspector general. Those cuts came as Congress handed the IRS more responsibility to administer the Affordable Care Act and police offshore bank accounts.

Declining IRS resources contributed to the decline in audits but weren’t the only cause, said David Kautter, assistant Treasury secretary for tax policy, who was acting IRS commissioner for much of fiscal 2018.

“In this age of technology, it’s easier to identify areas of noncompliance,” he said Monday.

Democrats say the IRS budget cuts are disproportionately benefiting high-income households.

“Republicans in the Senate and the House have been very much geared towards a policy that has produced lots of poor people being audited and lots of well-off people basically getting off the hook,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. “It takes more resources. There’s no way around it.”

Mr. Kennedy said he wants more details on the IRS modernization plans, pointing to the agency’s difficulties overhauling its technology.

Sen. James Lankford (R., Okla.) said he wants more updated information on the tax gap—the difference between taxes owed and taxes paid—which should be released in the coming months.

“We need to be able to see it and know what we actually could get a return on, from enforcement,” he said.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that an extra $20 billion spent on IRS enforcement could yield $55 billion over the next decade and more beyond that as audits generate revenue. Once the IRS completed staff training and computer upgrades, the government could get as much as $5.20 in additional revenue for every $1 spent, according to CBO.

The agency started 2,886 criminal investigations in 2018, down from 5,234 just five years earlier, according to the agency’s inspector general. The IRS criminal investigations unit had 26% fewer special agents than it did in 2012.

The IRS also has fewer employees working to collect taxes from people who already owe. Each collections officer generates about $2 million a year, which means the smaller IRS is leaving $3.3 billion a year on the table, just from collections, according to the agency’s inspector general.

Tax experts say the agency’s performance could be improved through better taxpayer service and a simpler tax system. So would rules that gave the IRS more information about sources of income—such as profits from cash businesses—that they lack now.

Taxpayers are extremely likely to comply with tax rules when the IRS independently has access to information about their finances. Wages reported on Form W-2 almost always show up on tax returns. When the IRS doesn’t have withholding payments or information, people are more likely to underreport their income.

“I don’t believe the solution is more agents, more audits and more intrusive government into taxpayers,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R., Texas), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee. “I think it’s smarter audits.”

But the drops in enforcement and the IRS budget have run in tandem, and the nonpartisan estimates from CBO, GAO and the IRS inspector general say reversing the spending cuts would generate money.

“We’re just in never-never land here. The IRS has had its capacity to do its job attacked. There’s no other way to say it,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D., Ore.) said at a recent hearing. “They can’t keep pace with what they’re up against.”

Credit given to:  Richard Rubin. This article was written May 20, 2019. You can write to Richard Rubin at richard.rubin@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 | What May Be The Best Investment Ever? July 17, 2019

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

Longer ago than I care to admit, a client gave me some sage advice that I have never been able to improve upon. His father had told him that the best investment you can ever make is in yourself. One reason being is that there is no other investment that you will have ever more control over. I have found this advice to be very profound and useful.

Ted Jenkin, co-CEO and founder of oXYGen Financial offers further thoughts on this topic as published in the WSJ on June 17, 2019.  

                                -Mark Bradstreet

Invest 2% of your income in you

When we think about investments, we often direct our attention to categories such as stocks, bonds and real estate. What we often don’t think about is our most valuable asset: our ability to earn an income and to make that income grow faster.

Almost 20 years ago, I met a successful business owner who gave me a simple lesson: Invest 2% of everything you earn annually back into your ability to grow your income.

What does this mean exactly? Investing in you is like diversifying your portfolio of investments. You might take a chance and invest in that side hustle you think could be a business. Take a training course or advanced education that could further your current career. Invest in a personal coach who could improve your business performance. It could mean investing in an exercise or nutrition program that could give you more stamina every day to accomplish more.

It’s the best advice I’ve ever received—and I do it every single year.

Credit given to:  Ted Jenkin, co-CEO and founder of oXYGen Financial

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 | Are You Considering Early Retirement? Maybe You Should Reconsider… July 10, 2019

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

Effects of Early Retirement

While many people look forward to retirement, after years of hard work and dedication, most people do not think about the potential physical, emotional and cognitive issues arising from the cessation of their life filled with the routine of working every day. Research suggests that early retirement may even kill you. You may think: How can that be? How can working longer be better for your health?

Early retirement offers many positive benefits. People have more time to pursue other passions and interests that they may have been longing to try. This gives them time to step away from stressful work and the high demand of work. 

Early retirees do not consider their potential unhealthy behaviors. These include being uninvolved with others, being too sedentary, over eating, and consuming too much alcohol. These factors arise because the retirees no longer have the purpose to fulfill work duties. Life as they have known it is suddenly gone.  This can lead to depression, lack of engagement, or even death. According to Richard W. Johnson, work and the work environment creates intellectual stimulation, while retirement can accelerate cognitive decline. He explains that it is important to keep the brain stimulated. 

Another risk to retirement is the possibility of becoming socially isolated. Many people do not realize the impact that a work environment can have on a person. Colleagues are there to engage and support each other, which adds significant social fulfillment to one’s life. Research suggests that avoiding social isolation by working even part time or volunteering may give retirees a longer life. Social isolation can reduce life satisfaction and affect your physical and mental health. Johnson discovered that only one-third of Americans age 55 and older will actually participate in community groups or unpaid activities. Being involved in activities or even having a part time job can provide stimulation and social interaction similar to that experienced by those who are engaged in full-employment.

Retiring early also has a significant financial impact. Some believe that this is the biggest danger to retirement. Being financially secure is something that people worry about each day while in paid employment. How much time do people think about it when they are in actual retirement? At age 62, you are eligible to receive Social Security, however, it will only cover about 40% of your paycheck. Johnson suggests that workers who remain in their careers can save some of their additional earnings for retirement and will accumulate more Social Security in the long run. 

When you turn 62…

At age 62 everyone thinks about the possibility of retiring. It is like a light bulb that goes off to indicate that you should consider taking the long break you have earned. A study by Maria Fitzpatrick at Cornell University and Timothy Moore at the University of Melbourne shows that there is a correlation between an increase in mortality rates and retirement. It states the risk factors include smoking and lack of physical activity, which are downfalls to early retirement. Many people believe they should retire by a certain age or they feel the pressure to retire early, which is a psychological effect. Johnson explains that as a society we should be encouraging older workers to stay on the job. This can boost long term health, longevity and the emotional and physical strength of the brain. Older workers are protected from age discrimination by Federal law. By allowing older workers to work longer the companies can not only benefit from the skilled workers but will enable the workers to live a longer healthier life. 

Credit given to:  Johnson, R. W. (2019, April 22). The Case Against Early Retirement. 

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 – Brianna Anello

–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 Law: An Art or a Science? May 29, 2019

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

Is preparing tax returns an art or a science? My answer may depend upon the day you ask me. But, more often than not, I would say that tax preparation is a blend of an art AND a science.

Too often when people are presented with a tax problem of sorts – what do they do? Well, of course, they pull out their smartphone and GOOGLE their question. In all honesty I am guilty of this quick fix as well. Naturally, we are all looking for the answer that we wish to hear. That being anything that will save us taxes. Most GOOGLE responses, especially the ones near the top of the search page are click bait. They have the answers you want to see. You are doing yourself a disservice if you stop with that “fast and loose” answer. You have to look for the “odd” stuff, the twists and turns that accompany the exceptions to every tax rule. Some of these may help you while others will cost you money. Even once you have found the exceptions then one must continue to look for how your question fits in with or conflicts with other sections of the Internal Revenue Code. And, what about that tax law change or court case that was handed down yesterday. What about that new tax law on the horizon? Did you notice that the website where you fell in love with the answer is six (6) years old?

The “art” part comes from trying to hit a moving target. A target that is not always visible but at the end of the day you have to take the shot. Or, at least spin it in a fashion so that you have not crossed the often-fuzzy line and stayed in the gray.

                                        –    Mark Bradstreet

An Internal Revenue Service official once introduced me to the rule of PUNG. When writing about taxes, he said, make frequent use of the words “probably, usually, normally and generally.”

That’s generally good advice—not only for tax columnists struggling to explain tricky tax laws but also for tens of millions of taxpayers racing to file their returns on time. “The law is chock-full of exceptions and counterintuitive twists that are easy to overlook and can often have an important impact on your tax bill”, says Claudia Hill, owner of TaxMam Inc., a tax services firm in Cupertino, Calif.

With the tax-filing deadline fast approaching for most of us, here are a few reminders from tax pros on how the fine print can sometimes be your friend.

Filing deadline: For most taxpayers, the filing deadline is April 15. But it’s April 17 for taxpayers who live in Maine or Massachusetts because of the Patriots’ Day holiday there on April 15 and the Emancipation Day holiday in the District of Columbia on April 16. It can be even later for other taxpayers, such as those in places designated as federal disaster areas.

If you need more time to file, as millions of people do each year, don’t panic: The IRS gives automatic six-month extensions until Oct. 15. But its website notes that an “extension of time to file your return doesn’t grant you any extension of time to pay your taxes.” The IRS estimates it will receive more than 14.6 million extension requests; a spokesman says.

Casualty losses: Fires, floods, mudslides, tornadoes, hurricanes and many other natural disasters made 2018 a year many of us are eager to forget, and this year already is shaping up as another grim reminder of Mother Nature’s awesome power.

At first glance, the wide-ranging tax law enacted in late 2017 might seem like yet another disaster for the many people who suffered major casualty losses. That law generally eliminated personal casualty and theft-loss deductions for most taxpayers, starting last year. But there is an important exception, says Jackie Perlman, principal tax research analyst at The Tax Institute at H&R Block Inc. in Kansas City, Mo. Victims still are eligible to deduct net personal casualty losses “to the extent they’re attributable to a federally declared disaster,” the IRS says.

Warning: There are important loss limitations and other tricky calculations to consider. For details, see IRS Publication 547.

Here is a holdover from the old law that may surprise some people because it sounds counterintuitive: Victims in federal disaster areas can choose to claim their losses for the year in which the disaster actually struck or for the prior year. For example, taxpayers with net personal casualty losses this year could claim their losses on their return for 2018—or they could wait until next year and claim it on their return for 2019, says Ms. Jackie Perlman of H&R Block. Taxpayers who suffered losses in 2018 could claim those losses on their return for that year—or on their return for 2017 (typically by filing an amended return).

14-day rule: As a general rule, the net rental income you get from renting out your home is subject to tax. But “there’s a special rule if you use a dwelling unit as a residence and rent it for fewer than 15 days,” the IRS says on its website. “In this case, don’t report any of the rental income and don’t deduct any expenses as rental expenses.”

Those 14 days don’t have to be consecutive, says Ms. Claudia Hill, who is also an enrolled agent (enrolled agents are tax specialists authorized to represent taxpayers at all levels of the IRS). But if you rent your home for 15 days or more, include all of that rental income in your income, says Ms. Jackie Perlman.

Refund claims: Don’t assume that you have forever to file your federal income-tax return as long as you are entitled to a refund. About 1.2 million taxpayers could lose almost $1.4 billion in unclaimed refunds because they still haven’t filed a 2015 Form 1040 return, the IRS warned in a recent press release.

“In cases where a federal income tax return was not filed, the law provides most taxpayers with a three-year window of opportunity to claim a tax refund,” the IRS says. If they miss that deadline, “the money becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury. For 2015 tax returns, the window closes April 15, 2019, for most taxpayers.”

Here are other reasons to pay attention: The IRS reminded taxpayers seeking a 2015 tax refund “that their checks may be held if they have not filed tax returns for 2016 and 2017. In addition, the refund will be applied to any amounts still owed to the IRS or a state tax agency and may be used to offset unpaid child support or past due federal debts, such as student loans.”

Credit for excess Social Security tax: Most people probably assume it’s a waste of time to check and see how much their employers withheld from their paychecks for Social Security. But consider doing it anyway, especially if you’re a high-income taxpayer who worked for two or more employers last year. The maximum amount that should have been withheld for 2018 was $7,960.80 (6.2% of $128,400, which was the maximum amount of wages subject to the tax.) If more than that was withheld, claim a credit for the excess amount. However, if any single employer withheld too much, ask the employer to adjust the tax for you, the IRS says. “If the employer doesn’t adjust the overcollection you can file a claim for refund using Form 843.”

Interesting exception: Interest income you receive on U.S. Treasury bills, notes and bonds is taxable at the federal level. But don’t forget that such interest is tax-free at the state and local level. That can be especially important for taxpayers in New York City, California or other high-tax areas.

Additional standard deduction: Thanks to the 2017 law, tax professionals predict many more people will claim the standard deduction for 2018, rather than itemizing. That law included a sharp increase in the basic standard deduction and generally limited state and local tax deductions to $10,000 per household. The basic standard deduction for 2018 is $24,000 for married couples filing jointly, or $12,000 for most singles and those who are married but filing separately.

But there is an extra amount for older taxpayers, those who qualify as blind, or both. For example, if you’re married filing jointly and you and your spouse each are 65 or older, the total standard deduction for 2018 would be $26,600. See IRS Publication 17 for more details.

IRA deadline: It might seem logical to assume there is nothing you can do now to affect your return for 2018. But for some people, it isn’t too late: The IRS says contributions to a traditional IRA can be made for a year “at any time during the year or by the due date for filing your return for that year, not including extensions. For most people, this means that contributions for 2018 must be made by April 15, 2019 (April 17, 2019, if you live in Maine or Massachusetts).”

Educator Expenses: Teachers and other educators who pay for educational supplies and other expenses out of their own pockets should be aware that those costs may be deductible up to $250 a year. This special deduction applies to teachers from kindergarten through grade 12, instructors, counselors, principals or aides in school for at least 900 hours during a school year. Qualified expenses include “ordinary and necessary expenses paid in connection with books, supplies, equipment (including computer equipment, software, and services), and other materials used in the classroom,” the IRS says. But you can’t deduct expenses for home schooling or for “nonathletic supplies for courses in health or physical education.”

If you and your spouse file jointly and both are eligible, “the maximum deduction is $500,” the IRS says. “However, neither spouse can deduct more than $250 of his or her qualified expenses.” This deduction goes on Schedule 1 of Form 1040, line 23.

Credit given to: Tom Herman. This article was written for the WSJ on Monday, March 25, 2019. 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

–until next week.