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Tax Tip of the Week | New Tax Laws Benefit Retirees May 22, 2019

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

The tax year of 2018 was the first full year for some tax savings that may benefit retired taxpayers more than some other groups. Some of these possible benefits follow:

1.    Higher standard deduction – for those retirees that have paid off their home mortgage may now have difficulty in itemizing their deductions. But, no matter – the new higher standard deduction which has practically doubled from 2017 to 2018 is more likely worth more in tax savings than being able to itemize as before.  
2.    Taxpayers aged 70 ½ and older may transfer up to $100,000 to charities from their IRAs even if unable to itemize. These contributions may count toward their RMD – BUT, the withdrawal doesn’t count as taxable income. An added benefit is that making donations in this fashion holds down your adjusted gross income which can help save on taxes on Medicare premiums, investment income and social security benefits. 
3.    Higher gift tax exemptions are available. The annual gift exclusion for 2019 is $15,000. So, any annual gifts made less than $15,000 do not require a gift tax return. Above that amount, a gift tax return is required, but typically, no gift tax is paid, unless working with a high net worth individual that is making lifetime gifts exceeding $11.4 million. A sunset provision exists where in 2026 – gift and estate tax provisions revert back from the $11.4 million to the pre-2018 levels of $5.49 million per person.  

The article that follows, Tax Overhaul Gives Retirees Some Relief further discusses the above in greater depth and includes some additional benefits. It was authored by Anne Tergensen and published by the WSJ on April 12, 2019.  
                                        –    Mark Bradstreet

Taxpayers are now filing their first returns based on the tax law Congress enacted in 2017. For retirees, the largest overhaul of the U.S. tax code in three decades has created new opportunities to cut taxes, along with some potential headaches.

Here are important changes retirees should be aware of and steps they can take to reduce their future tax bills.

1.    Higher standard deduction:

Many retirees, especially those who have paid off mortgages, take the standard deduction. For them, one positive change is the near-doubling of this deduction, or the amount taxpayers can subtract from their adjusted gross income if they don’t itemize deductible expenses including state taxes and charitable donations.

For individuals, the standard deduction is $12,000 for 2018 and $12,200 for 2019, up from $6,350 in 2017. For married couples, it is $24,000, rising to $24,400 for 2019, up from $12,700 in 2017. People 65 and older can also take an additional standard deduction of $1,600 (rising to $1,650 in 2019) or $2,600 for married couples. The expanded standard deduction expires at the end of 2025.

2.    A tax break for charitable contributions:

Retirees who take the standard deduction can still claim a tax benefit for donating to charity.

Taxpayers age 70½ or older can transfer up to $100,000 a year from their individual retirement accounts to charities. These donations can count toward the minimum required distributions the Internal Revenue Service requires those taxpayers to take from these accounts. But the donor doesn’t have to report the IRA withdrawal as taxable income. This can help the taxpayer keep his or her reported adjusted gross income below thresholds at which higher Medicare premiums and higher taxes on investment income and Social Security benefits kick in. People over 70½ who itemize their deductions can also benefit from such charitable transfers, said Ed Slott, an IRA specialist in Rockville Centre, N.Y.

3.    More options for 529 donors:

The new law allows taxpayers to withdraw up to $10,000 a year from a tax-advantaged 529 college savings account to pay a child’s private-school tuition bills from kindergarten to 12th grade.

For parents and grandparents who write tuition checks, saving in a 529 has advantages. The accounts, which are offered by states, allow savers to make after-tax contributions that qualify for state income tax breaks in many states and grow free of federal and state taxes. Withdrawals are also tax-free if used to pay eligible education expenses.

As in prior years, donors who want to give a child more than the $15,000 permitted under the gift-tax exemption can contribute up to five times that amount, or $75,000, to a 529. (They would then have to refrain from contributing for that child for the next four years.)

About a dozen states don’t allow tax-free withdrawals from 529s for private K-12 school tuition, so check with your plan first, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Savingforcollege.com.

4.    Higher gift-tax exemption:

The tax overhaul includes a sweet deal for ultrawealthy families. For the next seven years, the gift-tax exemption for individuals is an inflation-adjusted $11.4 million, up from $11.18 million in 2018 and $5.49 million in 2017. For couples, it is $22.8 million, up from $22.36 million in 2018 and $10.98 million in 2017.

Congress also raised the estate-tax exemption to $11.4 million per person today from $5.49 million in 2017. As a result, taxpayers can give away a total of $11.4 million tax-free, either while alive or at death, without paying a 40% gift or estate tax.

Because in 2026 gift- and estate-tax exemptions are set to revert to pre-2018 levels of $5.49 million per person adjusted for inflation, individuals with assets above about $6 million—and couples with more than $12 million—should consider making gifts, said Paul McCawley, an estate planning attorney at Greenberg Traurig LLP.

The sooner you give assets away, the more appreciation your heirs can pocket free of gift or estate tax, Mr. McCawley said.

The Treasury Department and the IRS recently issued proposed regulations that would grandfather gifts made at the higher exemption amount between 2018 and 2025 after the exemption reverts to pre-2018 levels.

5.    Less generous medical-expense deduction:

For 2018, taxpayers can deduct eligible medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income. That means for someone with a $100,000 income and $50,000 of medical or nursing-home bills, $7,500 is not deductible.

In 2019, the threshold for the medical deduction is slated to rise to 10% of adjusted gross income. That would leave the person above unable to deduct $10,000 of medical bills. One way to reduce the pain is to take advantage of the tax break available to people 70½ or older who make charitable transfers from IRAs, said Mr. Slott. Because the donor doesn’t have to report charitable IRA transfers as taxable income, a $5,000 gift would reduce a $100,000 income to $95,000. That, in turn, would mean $9,500 of medical expenses are ineligible for the deduction in 2019, rather than $10,000.

6.    Goodbye to Roth re-characterizations:

The legislation ended the ability of savers to “undo” Roth IRA conversions, which had been used to nullify certain IRA-related tax bills.

With a traditional IRA, savers typically get a tax deduction for contributions and owe ordinary income tax on withdrawals. With a Roth IRA, there is no upfront tax deduction, but withdrawals in retirement are usually tax-free. Tax-free withdrawals are attractive since they don’t push the saver into a higher tax bracket or trigger higher Medicare premiums.

Savers can convert all or part of a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, but they owe income tax on the taxable amount they convert in the year they convert. Until the overhaul, savers could undo a Roth conversion—and cancel the tax bill—within a specific time frame. But under the new tax law, Roth conversions can no longer be undone.

That doesn’t mean converting is no longer worthwhile, Mr. Slott said. But people should be careful to convert only an amount they know they can afford to pay taxes on.

Credit Given to:  Anne Tergesen. You can write to Anne Tergesen at anne.tergesen@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 | 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.

Tax Tip of the Week | Trusts – The Very Basics April 3, 2019

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

While a trust may be considered an “entity”, it is actually a fiduciary relationship whereby a trustee holds legal title to property and has a duty to manage that property for the benefit of others (known as beneficiaries).

A trust is formed by a trust agreement. There are many types and purposes of trusts, so the trust agreement has to be written specifically to accommodate the goals of the one setting up the trust who is known as the grantor. Once the trust has been set up, the grantor, also referred to as the settlor, or trustor, can then transfer property to the trust to be managed by the trustee.

A trust can be revocable, or irrevocable. A revocable trust, sometimes referred to as a living trust, is generally set up by a grantor who is also the trustee and beneficiary, and who retains the power to revoke or amend the trust. These trusts are legal entities, but are disregarded for federal tax purposes. In fact, they usually use the social security number of the grantor, and all income is reported on the grantor’s tax return. As such, a revocable trust does not file its own return.

On the other hand, an irrevocable trust does usually need to file a tax return, and, depending on the trust agreement, any tax due will be paid by the trust, or by the beneficiaries, or in some cases, by both the trust and the beneficiaries. It is usually better tax-wise if the beneficiaries pay the tax due to the short tax brackets applicable to trusts (and estates). The highest tax rate for a trust is the same as an individual’s, 37% for 2018. However, the highest tax bracket for an individual for 2018 begins at a taxable income of $500,000, while the highest bracket for a trust begins at $12,500. Trusts can also be taxable at the state level. For Ohio, trust rules are governed by the Ohio Trust Code which was enacted January 1, 2007.

There are several reasons for setting up trusts. One is to avoid probate. Revocable living trusts are generally used for this purpose. A trust can help your estate retain privacy whereas the probate process creates a public record. In addition, probate fees can be significant.

Another reason for a trust is to help preserve estate exemptions. A-B trusts, also known as bypass or marital trusts, can be used for this purpose. Other types of trusts used for marital purposes include the QTIP Trust and the Power of Appointment Trust.

Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts (ILIT’s) are used to prevent the taxability of life insurance within an estate. Dynasty Trusts are used to preserve assets for children and grandchildren or other beneficiaries. Incentive trusts can be used to encourage the behavior of beneficiaries, such as getting a college degree, or to address specific problems such as drug abuse. Special needs trusts can be set up for a physically or mentally disabled child. Spendthrift trusts can provide protection from creditors. Spendthrift clauses can be used in other types of trusts as well. Some additional types of trusts include the charitable remainder, charitable lead, Medicaid trusts, grantor retained annuity trusts, and numerous others.

The taxability of these trusts rests with the trust agreement. Before the trust agreement can be drafted, various questions must be answered. Some of the more important ones are:

•    How much control do I want?
•    Who will be the trustee and can the trustee be trusted?
•    Can I fire the trustee and name a new one?
•    Do I want to be able to revoke, or amend the trust?
•    Can I change the beneficiaries?
•    Do I want the income to be distributed?

As you can see, trusts and their taxation are very complicated. If you are considering setting up a trust, please seek the help of an attorney and a tax professional.

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

This Week’s Author – Norman S Hicks, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | 5 Ways to Fail a Sales Tax Audit March 20, 2019

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

IRS audits are horrible! Sales tax audits are worse. In some areas, a sales tax auditor has more legal authority than an IRS agent. Yes, that is scary! Some businesses think that it is not a big deal failing to collect sales tax from a “favorite” customer since the customer would be liable anyway in an audit. It is not that easy – the sales tax agent collects this shortfall from whoever they are auditing. You might be paying the sales tax for your “favorite” customer. Good luck trying to get those dollars back from them.

The article below is advertising from an Avalara blog. I do not know anything about Avalara other than this tongue in cheek article which makes a lot of sense at least from my experience over the years.
                                                      By Mark Bradstreet

 FROM THE AVALARA BLOG JANUARY 23, 2019

 “All businesses relish a good sales tax audit. After all, what’s not to like? And did you know it’s possible to spend more time, money, and resources than absolutely necessary during an audit? It’s true. Simply follow the five tips below and you’ll dramatically increase your chances of having to pay those coveted audit penalties. 

[From the Avalara blog.]

1. Give the auditor a hard time

Spare no inconvenience. Send the auditor on coffee runs. Set the auditor up in your most cramped and unappealing space then make the auditor sort through the messiest records. First impressions matter when it comes to audits, so make yours a terrible one. The harder the experience for the auditor, the more likely that auditor will help you spend more money, resources, and time.

2. Assume you don’t need to collect tax

This is a high-risk move. If you have nexus in a state, you’re required to collect and remit sales tax; and while nexus used to refer primarily to some sort of physical presence, that’s no longer the case.

On June 21, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled physical presence is not a requisite for sales tax collection. Since the decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., more than 30 states have broadened their sales tax laws to include a business’s “economic and virtual contacts” with the state, or economic nexus. That trend is likely to continue until all states with a general sales tax impose a sales tax collection obligation on remote sellers.

If you want to ensure you run afoul of auditors, just keep on not collecting in states where you make significant sales: Tax authorities are looking for you; they’ll likely find you.

3. Put your exemption certificates in a box in the warehouse

This gives you two advantages. First, it forces the auditor to dig through a potentially rat-infested box for the records needed, thus wasting more time. Second, it increases your chances of losing certificates to flood, fire, or vermin.

If you don’t have a complete certificate that proves a customer is exempt, you’ll owe the state for the sales tax you didn’t charge — plus bonus penalties and interest.

4. Keep incorrect records

You want to fail a sales tax audit? Make sure your records don’t match your bank accounts. If you have more or less money in your account than shows up on your sales tax records, you’re begging for an audit penalty.

If incorrect records are too blatant for your taste, strive for incomplete records. Don’t stress about recording every cent of sales tax charged to your customers. Scribble sales tax records down on a sheet of paper so you’ll never know where to find them when you need them. The auditor will linger as long as there’s a clear discrepancy between how much you collect and how much you record.

5. Pay less than you owe

This one’s about your overall method. You can drastically increase your risk of penalties during an audit by manually managing sales tax. Paying less sales tax than what your business owes will substantiate incorrect record-keeping, shoddy certificate storage, and (purposeful) ignorance about nexus. Plus, think of all of the other opportunities for error that await when you manually manage the following:

•    State and local jurisdiction rate changes
•    Filing methods and schedules for each taxing jurisdiction
•    Changing product taxability rules

But seriously

We know you don’t actually want to waste time, money, and resources. So, hopefully these tips give you some ideas of what not to do.

The right technology can turn sales tax management from painful and risky to easy and more accurate. Avalara’s suite of solutions can reduce your risk by automating calculations, certificate management, timely filing, and easy-to-access reports.”

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 – Mark C. Bradstreet, CPA

-until next week

Five Things to Know About Proposed Tweaks to the Retirement Systems March 13, 2019

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

The following article, by Anne Tergesen (WSJ), discusses possible revisions to the USA retirement system. These “proposed tweaks” may never happen or if they do, the changes will most likely be different than what follows. When I first began in taxes, an elderly tax practitioner told me to stop worrying about the future tax law changes and to make my decisions based upon the current law. For more often than not, I thought that was good advice. But that is not to say, we should bury our heads in the sand and not consider the provisions that Congress is working on.

-Mark Bradstreet

“In addition to giving annuities a greater role in 401(k) plans as part of its proposals to tweak the U.S. retirement system, Congress is considering provisions that could serve to expand workers’ access to retirement-savings plans and make it easier for savers to tap their accounts in case of emergencies. Here are five changes Americans could see in their 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts.

(1)     A New Item on 401(k) Disclosures
Currently, 401(k) plans are required to send participants quarterly and annual account statements with their balance. Under the proposed legislation, plan sponsors would have to show an estimate of the monthly income a participant’s balance could generate with an annuity, a detail akin to the payoff disclosures required on credit-card statements. The goal is to help workers better understand how prepared they are to maintain their income in retirement.

(2) A Repeal of the Age Limit on IRA Contributions
If you are 70 ½ or older, you can’t currently make deductible contributions to a traditional IRA. Congress is considering removing the age cap and allowing people above 70 ½ or older to deposit up to $6,500 a year in either a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. With a traditional IRA, account holder’s generally get to subtract their contributions from their income but they must pay ordinary income taxes on the money when they withdraw it – something they are required to do starting at age 70 ½ (the bill would do nothing to change that). With a Roth IRA, there is no upfront tax deduction but the money increases tax-free.

(3) More Types of Savings Accounts
Among the proposals under consideration is a new type of universal savings account that would offer more-flexible withdrawal rules than existing retirement accounts, according to Rep. Kenny Marchant (R, Texas) Employers could also be allowed to automatically enroll workers into emergency savings accounts. (Employees would be free to opt out.)

(4)  More Ways for Graduate Students to Fund IRAs
The bill would allow students to contribute taxable stipend or fellowship payments to an IRA, something that’s not currently possible.

(5)  Pooled 401(k) Plans
For years policy makers have tried to make retirement-savings plans more attractive and affordable to small businesses, many of which have no plan at all. About one-half of private-sector employees, many of whom work for small companies, lack access to a workplace retirement plan. Under one measure before Congress, small employers would be able to more easily band together to spread out the administrative costs of 401(k) plans. The proposal would eliminate a requirement that employers have a connection, such as being members of the same industry trade group, in order to join a so-called multiple-employer plan. Congress is also considering expanding a tax credit available to small companies to offset the costs of starting a new retirement plan. The annual credit amount would increase from $500 to as much as $5,000 for three years.”

Credit given to Anne Tergesen, WSJ
Saturday/Sunday July 21-22, 2018

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 – Mark Bradstreet, CPA
–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week |Offshore Tax Cheats – The IRS is Still Coming for You March 6, 2019

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

Having an offshore account is not illegal, provided the accounts are in compliance with U.S. tax laws which include appropriate disclosure. And, yes, you can get into serious trouble for failing to attach the appropriate forms to your income tax return. So, please be certain to advise your tax preparer of any foreign assets you may have. But, where things get really dicey, is the situation of using these “secret” accounts to hide your money and not paying any income tax (offshore tax evasions is a criminal act). More details from Laura Saunders follow.

  • Mark Bradstreet

“Hiding money from the U.S. government is a lot harder than it used to be.  

On Sept. 28, the Internal Revenue Service will end (now ended) its program allowing American tax cheats with secret offshore accounts to confess them and avoid prison. In a statement, the IRS said it’s closing the program because of declining demand.

But the agency vowed to keep pursuing the people hiding money offshore and said it will offer them another route to compliance.

What a difference a decade makes.

Before 2008, an American citizen could often walk into a Swiss bank, deposit millions of dollars, and walk out confident that the funds were safe and hidden from Uncle Sam, says Mark Matthews, a lawyer with Caplin & Drysdale who formerly helped the IRS’ criminal division.

Now he says, “Americans hiding money abroad have to go to small islands with sketchy advisers and less reliable financial systems.”

The reason:  a historic crackdown on the longstanding problem of U.S. taxpayers hiding money offshore, U.S. officials ramped it up after a whistleblower revealed that some Swiss banks saw U.S. tax evasions as a profit center and were sending bankers onto U.S. soil to hunt for clients.

The defining moment came in 2008, when Justice Department prosecutors took Swiss banking giant UBS AG to court and managed to pierce the veil of Swiss bank secrecy. In 2009, UBS agreed to pay $780 million and turn over information on hundreds of U.S. customers to avoid criminal prosecution.

The Justice Department repeated the UBS strategy, with variations, for scores of other banks and financial firms in Switzerland, Israel, Liechtenstein and the Caribbean. So far, institutions have paid about $6 billion and turned over once-sacrosanct customer information. More major settlements are still to come.

Prosecutors also successfully pursued more than 150 individuals hiding money abroad. Some defendants earned jail time, and many paid dearly – a total of more than $500 million so far. Dan Horsky, a retired business professor and a startup investor, appears to have handed over the largest amount: $125 million for hiding more than $220 million offshore.  

In many cases, a taxpayer can owe a penalty of half a foreign account’s value, if it’s greater than $10,000 and it’s not reported to the Treasury Department. Ty Warner, the billionaire creator of Beanie Babies plush toys, paid $53.6 million for hiding an account with more than $100 million.

The IRS capitalized on tax cheats’ fears of detection with its Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, the limited amnesty that’s ending. It hit confessors with large penalties in exchange for no prosecution. Since 2009, more than 56,000 U.S. taxpayers in the program have paid $11.1 billion to resolve their issues.

To be sure, the U.S. crackdown hasn’t reached everywhere – notably Asia.

Edward Robbins, a criminal tax lawyer in Los Angeles formerly with the IRS and Justice Department, attributes the enforcement gap to the widespread use of human beings, rather than structures like trusts, to shield account ownership in Asia.

“In the Far East, individuals often use other individuals who use other individuals to hold assets. Finding the true owner is a tough nut to crack, unlike in the West,” he says.

The crackdown also had drawbacks, making financial life difficult for many of the roughly 4 million U.S. citizens living abroad. Unlike most countries, the U.S. taxes citizens on income earned both at home and abroad. Often expatriates were stunned to find they could be considered tax cheats under the expansive U.S. Law and that compliance would be onerous.

In reaction, more than 25,000 expats have given up U.S. citizenship since 2008, with some paying a stiff exit tax. Others are working to get Congress to change the taxation of nonresidents.

For expats and others, the IRS now offers a compliance program with lesser penalties, or none, for offshore-account holders who didn’t willfully cheat. About 65,000 taxpayers have entered the program and the IRS says it will remain open for now.

Current and would-be tax cheats should take seriously the IRS’s vow to keep pursuing secret offshore accounts, says Bryan Skarlatos, a criminal tax lawyer with Kostelanetz & Fink who has handled more than 1,500 offshore disclosures to the IRS.

Although the IRS’s staffing is way down, he says, the agency and the Justice Department have far better tools for detecting and combating evasion than 10 years ago.

Among these agencies’ tools are the Fatca law, which requires foreign firms to report information on American account holders.This law is providing the IRS with streams of useful information it’s using in prosecutions.This week brought the first guilty plea for a violation of Fatca rules by a former executive of a bank in Hungary and the Caribbean.

The IRS is also mining data from foreign bank settlements and whistleblower information. The payment of $104 million to UBS whistleblower Bradley Birkenfield, apparently the largest ever, has inspired other informers.

To detect clusters of cheats, U.S. officials now can use a “John Doe summons” to force firms to release information on a class of customers suspected of evading taxes – even if their identities aren’t known, and even if the information isn’t in the U.S.

This strategy has been so successful that the IRS has broadened its use to identify possible tax cheats using cryptocurrencies.

“More than ever, there’s no place to hide,” say Mr. Skarlatos.”

Credit given to Tax Report, Laura Saunders, WSJ, September 15-16, 2018

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 – Mark C. Bradstreet, CPA

-until next week

Tax Tip of the Week | How The New 20% QBI Deduction (199A) May Apply to Rentals (particularly triple net leases) February 27, 2019

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

How The New 20% QBI Deduction (199A) May Apply to Rentals (particularly triple net leases)

As a refresher, the QBI deduction is available for the first time on your 2018 Form 1040. So, this is all new stuff for you and us (and the IRS). The new QBI deduction, created by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) allows many owners of sole proprietorships, partnerships, S corporations, trusts, or estates to deduct up to 20 percent of their qualified business income. Yes, if you qualify – that may be a huge deduction for you. So, when it comes to the interpretation of 199A, there is a lot at stake for a lot of businesses.

Landlords have anxiously awaited further guidance in regards to Section 199A. There has been much speculation if, when and how the Section 199A would apply for them.  Finally, on Friday, January 18, 2019, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service issued final regulations on the implementation of the new qualified business income (QBI) deduction for rentals. Now we have to interpret their interpretation. And, only time will tell, whether this final interpretation is their last interpretation (probably not).

What follows is specifically about landlords and the applicability of 199A. For starters, let’s define “triple net lease.” This term often comes up in business conversations. Interestingly, not everyone has the same definition in mind. So, excerpts from the first article below define some different types of leases before moving into the second and last article which tends to revolve around “triple net leases.” Please keep in mind that his interpretation of the final 199A interpretation as well as some of his opinions may differ from ours. Many parts of the new tax law are still fuzzy, moving targets and this one is no exception.

By Mark Bradstreet

By Rob Blundred  – Commercial Sales Associate, Henkle Schueler and Associates
Aug 6, 2018

Net lease
The benefit of a net lease is that the landlord can charge a lower base rent price. However, along with the base rent the tenant is responsible for an “additional rent fee” which covers the operations and maintenance of the property. These costs can cover real estate taxes, property insurance and common area maintenance (CAM) items. The CAM fees cover the landlord costs for janitorial services, property management fees, sewer, water, trash, landscaping, parking lot, fire sprinklers, and any shared area or service.

There are several types of net leases:

•    Single net lease (N lease). In this lease, the tenant pays base rent plus their pro rata share of the building’s property tax (meaning a portion of the total bill based on the proportion of total building space leased by the tenant). The landlord covers all other building expenses. The tenant also pays utilities and janitorial services.

•    Double net lease (NN lease). The tenant is responsible for base rent plus their pro-rata share of property taxes and property insurance. The landlord covers expenses for structural repairs and common area maintenance. The tenant once again is responsible for their own janitorial and utility expenses.

•    Triple net lease (NNN lease). This is the most popular type of net lease for commercial freestanding buildings and retail space. The tenant pays all or part of the three “nets” – property taxes, insurance, and CAMS – on top of a base monthly rent.

Absolute triple net lease

The absolute triple net lease is an extreme form of an NNN lease where the tenant absorbs all of the real estate risk and responsibility. The tenant is ultimately responsible for all building-related expenses and repairs, including roof and structure.

Modified gross lease

The appeal of a modified gross lease is the tenant has one set amount to pay each month. In a modified gross lease, the base rent and “nets” (property taxes, insurance and CAMS) are all included in one lump sum payment; excluding utilities and janitorial services, which are typically covered by the tenant.
The benefit of a modified gross lease is their flexibility. They are generally an easier agreement to make between the landlord and tenant. The risk is if insurance, taxes or CAM increase or decrease the cost or savings is passed on to the landlord.

Why Is the IRS Punishing Triple Net Landlords?

Alan Gassman Contributor to Forbes Jan 26, 2019
Retirement  (writes about tax, estate and legal strategies and opportunities.)

“There are horrible people who, instead of solving a problem, tangle it up and make it harder to solve for anyone who wants to deal with it.

Whoever does not know how to hit the nail on the head should be asked not to hit it at all.”

– Friedrich Nietzche

While the IRS as a whole is by no means “horrible,” the new Final Regulations regarding Section 199A of the Internal Revenue Code must seem that way to landlords who lease property under triple net leases. The vast majority of these will not be considered to be “active trades or businesses” for purposes of qualifying for the 20% deduction that will be available to most active landlords.

Code Section 199A was introduced to the Internal Revenue Code as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act with the intent of giving taxpayers some degree of parity with the 21% income tax bracket bestowed upon large and small companies that are taxed as separate entities (known to tax professionals as “C corporations.” C corporations are different than “S corporations,” as S corporations report their income under the “K-1” system that causes the shareholders to pay the income tax on their personal returns).

Since the term “trade or business” was not defined under Section 199A, the real estate community has been waiting for the Final Regulations which were released on Friday, January 18, and basically follow what the Proposed Regulations (released last August) said, which is that passive investors are not considered to be an active trade or business, even though they take significant economic risks and may work hard to verify that the tenants pay the taxes, insurances and maintenance of the leased property, comply with applicable law and otherwise do what tenants are supposed to do.

The practical result will be that landlords will need to become active and possibly renegotiate lease terms to have at least a chance of being eligible to have the deductions that other landlords will have, or to perhaps qualify under the new safe harbor rules that allow the deduction to non-triple net leases if they satisfy the 250 hour per year requirement, which requires tabulation of the work hours of landlords and agents of landlords, and certain time log and verification procedures.’

This seems very unfair since REIT (Real Estate Investment Trusts) income will often include triple net lease profits that will qualify for the Section 199A deduction, and C corporations only have to pay the 21% rate on net income from triple net leases.

Tax professionals, and masochists may enjoy or derive a better understanding by reading on.

The new Final Regulations refer to several Supreme Court cases to aide in defining what types of enterprises will qualify as a trade or business, and these cases do not bode well for landlords of triple net leases. For example, the Final Regulations cite to the Supreme Court’s 1987 landmark “trade or business” case, Commissioner v. Groetzinger, which held that to be engaged in a trade or business the following two requirements must be met:

1. The taxpayer’s involvement must be continuous and regular; and

2. The primary purpose of the activity must be for income or profit.

The very definition of a triple net lease seemingly disqualifies the majority of triple net landlords from qualifying under this definition under the assumption that they do not have continuous and regular involvement.

With triple net leases, the tenant is usually responsible for the three “nets”: real estate taxes, building insurance, and maintenance. By having the tenant be responsible for most of the on-site responsibilities, the landlord is able to spend more time and effort buying and selling other properties and therefore investing more into the economy.

In turn, triple net lease agreements usually benefit the tenant because the pricing of the agreement will reflect the fact that the tenant will be responsible for a lot of the on-site responsibilities. Now tenants have the upper hand when landlords ask to be allowed to provide at least 250 hours of services per year (cumulatively, as to all leases that the landlord will aggregate under the complicated aggregation rules, which are discussed in our blog post entitled Real Estate: Investing with Section 199A: Don’t Let Your Deductions Fly Out the Window).

The new Final Regulations do, however, contain one saving grace for taxpayers with triple net leases by quoting the 1941 Supreme Court case of Higgins v. Commissioner.

In Higgins the Supreme Court stated that the determination of “whether the activities of a taxpayer are ‘carrying on a business’ requires an examination of the facts in each case.” Since it is a factual determination, a taxpayer with the right facts can successfully argue that his or her triple net or almost triple net rental enterprise should constitute a qualified trade or business.

However, doing so will be a tough and expensive hurdle for many landlords to jump over.

Perhaps Congress will act in a compromise to assist the continued growth in the economy in recognizing that taxpayers with triple net leases put themselves at significant financial risk, in that tenants like Toys R Us and Sears may go bankrupt and leave a landlord high and dry after many months of eviction and then bankruptcy litigation. Many landlords are not aware that the bankruptcy law allows tenants to have the court terminate long term leases and limit damages to one year of rent.

Non-triple net lease landlords who spend considerable time in their leasing activities can take considerable comfort from Notice 2019-7, which was published alongside the new Final Regulations. The Notice provides the above-mentioned safe harbor for non-triple net leases to be “treated as a trade or business solely for the purposes of Section 199A.”

Under the new safe harbor, non-triple net rental real estate may be treated as a trade or business, if the following three requirements are met:

1. separate books and records are maintained to reflect income and expenses for each rental real estate enterprise;

2. 250 or more hours of rental services are performed per year with respect to the rental enterprise; and

3. the taxpayer maintains contemporaneous records, including time reports or similar documents, regarding the following: a) hours of all services performed, b) description of all services performed, c) dates on which such services are performed, and d) who performed the service.

Interestingly, while triple net lease arrangements outside of REITs will likely not qualify under Section 199A, banks that are taxed as S corporations, or partnerships, are eligible for the deduction, although in many respects a loan is like a triple net lease where the landlord has put money out for a long term series of payments, where in many cases the vast majority of the value is in the years of payments to be received, just like a long term promissory note.

It is even more disturbing that other types of businesses involving much less risk on the part of the owner qualify for the deduction. These include brothels, franchisors and vending machine owners. How is it possible that a brothel owner sitting back and receiving rent from independent contractor “professional entertainers” may qualify for the benefits of Section 199A, but taxpayers with triple net leases do not?

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 – Mark C. Bradstreet, CPA

-until next week

Tax Tip of the Week | Gifting – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly February 20, 2019

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

Gifting – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I am receiving a gift…how much gift tax will I owe? This is one of the more common questions that we receive.  It is easy to make the tax concept of gifting more difficult than it is. The tendency is for the recipient of the gift to assume they must pay a “gift tax.” After all, they were the ones that received the gift. That would seem logical but it is not true.  If anyone pays a gift tax – it is the giver not the receiver. That, seems counterintuitive as well, being that the person who made the gift now may have to bear the tax burden on something they no longer have. However, because of an assortment of planning opportunities, few gifts result in a tax gift. The IRS doesn’t necessarily want to tax gifts per se. They just want to be sure that taxpayers aren’t using gifting mechanisms to reduce their taxable estate and beat the government out of future estate taxes.

Some nice explanations and planning strategies follow as authored by Dawn Doebler on December 5, 2018.

By Mark Bradstreet

Annual per person limits apply

The simplest rule to keep in mind is the “federal annual gift tax exclusion.” This limit is $15,000 per person in 2018 and can change each year. So long as you keep the value of your gift below $15,000 per person, you are free to gift to an unlimited number of people and will not have to report it or worry about paying any gift tax. For married couples, each person can use their own exclusion amount, meaning parents can gift up to $30,000 per child without triggering the gift tax. Gifts between legally married spouses are exempt — you can give an unlimited amount to your spouse!

You may need to file a gift tax return if …

… you make a gift in excess of the annual limit. Then you’re required to file Form 709, which is the gift-and-generation-skipping-transfer tax return. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll owe any tax. In fact, it’s likely you won’t. This return tracks the extra gift amount and will be deducted from your “federal lifetime exemption,” which applies when your final estate is settled after your death. As an example, if you are married and make a one-time gift of $50,000 for a down payment on a home for your unmarried child, you’d be required to file a gift tax return and report the $20,000 excess gift ($50,000 – $30,000: the combined annual gift limit for a married couple).

Estate tax laws are intertwined with gift tax laws

The federal estate tax exclusion amount is the mechanism that connects gift tax laws with estate tax laws. The federal government uses this rule to limit the amount you can give away over your lifetime.

This rule prevents wealthy individuals from giving away all of their money before their death to circumvent estate tax. (The top estate tax rate is 40 percent.) With the passing of the new tax law, the exclusion amount was increased to $11.18 million per person (which translates to $22.36 million for a married couple). So long as you give away less than $11.18 million over your lifetime, you likely won’t owe any federal gift tax. While this is a high number now, it’s not permanent. In 2025, this limit will sunset back to $5.6 million per person. If your wealth currently exceeds $11.18 million, it may make sense to take advantage of these higher limits between now and the end of 2025. It’s also important to document gifts that exceed the annual per-person limits to correctly plan in the future, as the laws may change.

Smart timing can help avoid gift taxes

One of the simplest ways to avoid having to file a gift tax return is to spread gifts over multiple calendar years. In the prior example, rather than gifting your child’s home down payment of $50,000 in one year, you could gift the maximum of $30,000 at the end of this year, and then gift the remaining $20,000 in 2019. With just a little bit of advance planning, you can split larger gifts into multiple tax years, and avoid using any of your lifetime exemption or having to file a gift tax return.

There’s more than one way to gift

Remember that these gift tax rules apply no matter what kind of asset you’re giving. One way to manage the overall tax effectiveness of your gifting is to give stocks rather than cash. For example, gifting appreciated stock is helpful if the gift recipient is in a lower tax bracket than you. You could avoid having to pay capital gains on the gifted stock and may be able to completely eliminate gains tax if the recipient’s income puts them in the zero-percent capital gains tax bracket (i.e. if a single person has income below $38,600). Keep in mind that kiddie tax rules apply if you are gifting to a child. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to consult with a CPA if you’re thinking about gifting stocks, real estate or other non-cash financial assets. You may also want to consider non-cash gifts as donations to donor-advised funds.

Take advantage of exceptions

Another way to avoid gift tax payments or reporting is to make use of the special exemptions provided in the laws. In the case of gifting for college funding, special rules apply to 529 plan contributions. You may exceed the annual gift limit by applying the exception that allows you to gift up to $75,000 to a 529 plan in one year. ($15,000 x 5 years = $75,000 per person per child). Another exception allows you to gift an unlimited amount for either medical expenses or education tuition so long as you make payments directly to the institution providing the services.

As the size of your gifts and your overall wealth increases, it’s wise to keep an eye on both the federal lifetime exemption amount and the annual gifting per-person limits. Doing so will keep you aware of any reporting requirements while also preserving the integrity of your lifetime exemption and maximizing the amount of money you can gift to others throughout your lifetime.

Credit given to: Dawn Doebler, MBA, CPA, CFP®, CDFA®, Senior Wealth Advisor

Dawn’s experience spans more than 25 years providing wealth management, financial planning and corporate finance solutions for clients. As an MBA, CPA, Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®), she is uniquely qualified to understand the challenges and financial needs of clients from executives to entrepreneurs, as well as single breadwinner parents. Dawn is a weekly contributor to WTOP radio.

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 – Mark C. Bradstreet, CPA

-until next week