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Unraveling Conflicting Tax Rules for Active vs. Passive Income February 26, 2020

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : 2019 Taxes, Business consulting, General, Tax Rules, Tax Tip, Taxes, Taxes, Uncategorized , add a comment

February 26, 2020

Few topics in the office cause more arguments than the tax definition of active versus passive.  The answer affects your income taxes vastly more than one would ever guess.  And, not in just one area of tax but often involving a multitude of seemingly unrelated areas.  At times, both parties in our office scuffles will have written evidence to support each of their opposing views.  Taxes have many shades of gray.

                            -Mark Bradstreet

It is commonly accepted wisdom that tax rules are complicated. This belief is well supported by the conflicting tax rules that apply to business owners, depending on their participation in the business. Let me try to make some sense of these conflicting rules.

Overview

Business owners may be active in their business. This means they are hands-on and are involved in day-to-day activities. Other business owners may be mere investors, adding their capital but not their labor. The following are various rules that take into account whether owners do or do not work in their businesses.

Qualified business income deduction

The 20% deduction for qualified business income (QBI) applies to owners of pass-through entities. There is no requirement that they do or do not participate in the daily operations of the business in order to claim this personal deduction based on their share of business income. If they participate (e.g., they are an S corporation shareholder who receives a salary), this factors into the QBI determination. For example, salary to an S corporation shareholder is not an item allowed in determining QBI, but the salary does count as wages for purposes of W-2 wages used in the formula for the QBI deduction.

Net investment income deduction

The 3.8% net investment income (NII) tax depends entirely on an owner’s participation in the business. Only income from a business in which the taxpayer does not materially participate is treated as investment income and potentially subject to the NII tax. The determination of material participation is made using the passive activity loss rules (below).

Passive activity loss rules

Under the passive activity loss rules, losses from a business activity in which an owner does not materially participate, and has no passive income, are not currently deductible (sorry for the double negative but it’s the best way to explain this limitation). Suspended losses can be carried forward and used to offset passive activity income in the future.

The determination of whether an owner is passive or active is based on 7 tests. An owner is treated as materially participating (i.e., active) and is exempt from the passive activity loss rules if he or she meets any of these tests:

1.    The owner participated in the activity for more than 500 hours.
2.    The owner’s participation was substantially all the participation in the activity of all individuals for the tax year, including the participation of individuals who didn’t own any interest in the activity.
3.    The owner participated in the activity for more than 100 hours during the tax year, and he or she participated at least as much as any other individual (including individuals who didn’t own any interest in the activity) for the year.
4.    The activity is a significant participation activity, and the owner participated in all significant participation activities for more than 500 hours (i.e., participation for more than 100 hours during the year and in which the owner didn’t materially participate under any of the material participation tests).
5.    The owner materially participated in the activity (other than by meeting this fifth test) for any 5 (whether or not consecutive) of the 10 immediately preceding tax years.
6.    The activity is a personal service activity in which you materially participated for any 3 (whether or not consecutive) preceding tax years. An activity is a personal service activity if it involves the performance of personal services in the fields of health (including veterinary services), law, engineering, architecture, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, or any other trade or business in which capital isn’t a material income-producing factor.
7.    Based on all the facts and circumstances, the owner participated in the activity on a regular, continuous, and substantial basis during the year.

Note: When it comes to rental real estate activities and the passive activity loss rules, an owner’s participation doesn’t entitle him or her to claim losses. Owners of rental real estate activities can escape the passive activity loss rules only by demonstrating that they are real estate professionals (part of the definition of a real estate professional is based on material participation).

Self-employment tax

Sole proprietors pay self-employment tax on their net self-employment income. This is so whether they run their business or are totally in the background, relying on a full-time manager to handle the business.

General partners are subject to self-employment tax on their distributive share of self-employment income, plus any guaranteed payments. In contrast, limited partners are exempt from self-employment tax (other than for any guaranteed payments they receive for personal services rendered for the partnership).

Members in limited liability companies may or may not be subject to self-employment tax. There is no firm IRS guidance on this matter. However, tax professionals have argued that where members are mere investors (i.e., they act like limited partners), they should be treated like limited partners who are exempt from self-employment tax on their distributive shares.

Bottom line

Whether you sweat each day in your endeavors or are an investor who watches the books determines the tax rules that apply to you. Discuss your status with your CPA or other tax advisor.

Credit given to:Barbara Weltman

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.  

Today’s author – Mark Bradstreet

–until next week.

Energy Tax Credit: Which Home Improvements Qualify? February 19, 2020

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : 2019 Taxes, Taxes, Taxes, Uncategorized , add a comment

Updated for Tax Year 2019

Taxpayers who upgrade their homes to make use of renewable energy may be eligible for a tax credit to offset some of the costs. Through the 2019 tax year, the federal government offers the Non-business Energy Property Credit. The renewable energy tax credits are good through 2019 and then are reduced each year through the end of 2021. Claim the credits by filing Form 5695 with your tax return.

Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit

Equipment that qualifies for the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit includes solar, wind, geothermal and fuel-cell technology:

Renewable energy tax credit details

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can claim the Residential Energy Efficiency Property Credit for solar, wind, and geothermal equipment in both your principal residence and a second home. But fuel-cell equipment qualifies only if installed in your principal residence.

Non-business Energy Property Tax Credit
(Extended through December 31, 2019)

Equipment and materials can qualify for the Non-business Energy Property Credit only if they meet the standards set by the Department of Energy. The manufacturer can tell you whether a particular item meets those standards.

For this credit, the IRS distinguishes between two kinds of upgrades.

The first is “qualified energy efficiency improvements,” and it includes:

The second category is “residential energy property costs.” It includes:

Details of the Non-business Energy Property Credit
(Extended through December 31, 2019)

You can claim a tax credit for 10% of the cost of qualified energy efficiency improvements and 100% of residential energy property costs. This credit is worth a maximum of $500 for all years combined, from 2006 to its expiration.  Of that combined $500 limit;

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 | How is Hobby Income Taxed? February 12, 2020

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : 2019 Taxes, General, tax changes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Preparation, Tax Tip, Taxes, Taxes , add a comment

February 12, 2020

The hobby world has been turned upside down. In the past, hobby expenses were deducted to the extent of hobby income. Starting with 2019 and moving forward, hobby expenses are no longer deductible but your hobby income is fully taxable. Why? I have no idea. Hobbyists should be making whatever efforts necessary to convert their hobby to a business. Unlike hobby expenses, business expenses are deductible.  

                                -Mark Bradstreet

If you earn money from a hobby, you must report it as income on your federal income tax return. But if your hobby turns into a business, you may be eligible to take business deductions as well.

If you’re like most people, you probably have at least one hobby.

Unless your hobby’s mining for cryptocurrencies, you may not profit much from it. But you could still have at least a little hobby income coming in. If you do, you’re probably wondering: How is hobby income taxed?

The answer: You must pay taxes on any money your hobby makes, even if it’s just a few dollars. The good news is, if you incurred hobby expenses, you might be able to deduct them. It’s important to know how to declare hobby income, how to deduct hobby expenses and how to know if your hobby’s a business. You can find out about the rules right here.

Is it a hobby, or is it a business?

First things first — are you pursuing a hobby or running a business? Generally, if you’re doing something with the intention of making a profit, that’s a business, according to the IRS. A hobby is something you do for sport or recreation, and not for the objective of making a profit.

Some additional factors the IRS considers when defining a hobby versus a business include:

•    Do you depend on the income from your hobby?
•    Do you conduct your hobby like a business, maintaining meticulous records?
•    Have you taken steps to make your hobby more profitable?
•    Do you (or anyone who’s advising you) have the knowledge you would need to conduct your hobby as an actual business?
•    Can you expect to turn a profit from appreciation of assets you use in your hobby?

Maybe you answered “no” to all of the questions above. Sometimes, however, your hobby isn’t just for fun and you decide to try to make a living doing what you love. If your hobby becomes a business in the eyes of the IRS, the rules change. Check out the IRS Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center if you find that your hobby has turned into a business.

You must declare hobby income

The IRS wants you to declare all your hobby income, even if it’s a small amount of money.

“If your hobby or side business has a net profit, you have to pay income taxes on that net profit, even with the new tax law,” says Irene Wachsler, a CPA at Tobolsky & Wachsler CPAs LLC in Canton, Massachusetts.

If you file your taxes using Form 1040, you’ll typically report your hobby income on Line 21, labeled “Other income.” While this is the simplest approach for most situations, there’s an alternative if you’re a collector.

If your hobby income comes from selling collectibles at a profit, you may report income from sales, including stock sales, on Schedule D. Reporting profits on a Schedule D means you could be taxed at capital gains rates instead of ordinary income tax rates.

Hobby expenses

Most hobbies — even those that earn you income — also cost money. Prior to the 2018 tax year, you could deduct hobby expenses equal to your hobby income. For tax years after 2018, this deduction is no longer available.

Since tax reform has significantly increased the standard deduction for 2018, you may be thinking you’ll likely lose the ability to deduct hobby expenses if it no longer makes sense for you to itemize. In fact, it doesn’t matter whether you do or don’t itemize — you’ve lost the deduction for hobby expenses in 2018 anyway because tax reform removed the miscellaneous deduction.

“Under the new tax reform bill, there is no place to deduct the expenses, so income will be recognized but the expense will not, starting in 2018,” says Alan Pinck, an enrolled agent and founder of A. Pinck & Associates, San Jose, California.

When does your hobby become a business, and why does it matter?

If your hobby becomes a business, you’re subject to a whole different set of tax rules.

First, you’ll typically have to declare income on Schedule C and pay both income tax and self-employment taxes (self-employment taxes include taxes for Social Security and Medicare, which an employer normally pays half of when you earn wage income). You can also deduct losses from a business, even if those losses exceed income the business earns, which differs from hobby losses.

It may seem tempting to classify your hobby as a business so you can deduct all your expenses, but proceed with caution — as mentioned earlier, the IRS uses specific criteria to differentiate a hobby from a business.

“If the activity makes a profit during at least three out of the last five years, the IRS will generally consider it a business,” Pinck explains, noting that the rules change if horses are involved.

Still, if you decide you do want to turn your hobby into a business and reap the tax benefits of business deductions, Wachsler recommends you keep a log showing your attempts to participate materially in the business.

Your log could include details on your efforts, including advertising, meetings, trying to obtain income or sell services, mileage logs and work logs. Of course even if you make an effort, the IRS may still decide your “business” isn’t really a business at all if you suffer persistent losses year after year.

Bottom line

Now that you know how hobby income is taxed, it’s up to you to decide if making money doing something for fun is worth the potential tax ramifications. While declaring income earned from your hobby may seem like a hassle — especially since you can’t deduct expenses after 2017 — you don’t want to get in trouble with the IRS for not reporting all your income.

Be sure to follow the rules for paying taxes on any money your hobby earns, and be sure you understand the differences between a hobby and a business. If the IRS decides you incorrectly classified your hobby as a business or vice versa, you could face additional taxes, penalties and interest.

Credit Given to: Christy Rakoczy Bieber

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.  

Today’s author – Mark Bradstreet

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | How to do 1031 Exchanges to Defer Taxes February 5, 2020

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : 2019 Taxes, General, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Preparation, Tax Tip, Taxes, Taxes , add a comment

Like-kind tax free exchanges aka Internal Revenue Code Section 1031 are one of the most valuable yet underutilized sections of the IRC (the last major tax law change eliminated 1031 exchanges for anything but real estate).  We have prepared thousands of individual income tax returns and only a very small fraction of those with commercial and residential real estate sales use Section 1031.  Why?  I speculate lack of 1031 education is the primary culprit.  Also, the people that are aware simply don’t wish to tackle its complexities.  Its rules are unforgiving and the deadlines are engraved in stone as the accompanying article discusses.  However, it benefits may be significant.

                                    -Mark Bradstreet 

The Definition of Like-Kind Properties Has Changed Over the Years

The time-worn saying “Nothing is certain but death and taxes” is only half true for a savvy American taxpayer who is planning the sale of an investment or business property. Since capital gains tax on your profits could run as high as 15 percent to 30 percent when state and federal taxes are combined, why not take the necessary steps to avoid this loss? A big tax bite could wipe out money you could use for future investments.

Enter the 1031 tax-deferred exchange. To many taxpayers, this is like money dropping from the skies.

1031 Exchanges Defer Taxes

The 1031 Exchange has been cited as the most powerful wealth-building tool still available to taxpayers. It has been a major part of the success strategy of countless financial wizards and real estate gurus. Taking its name from Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code, a tax-deferred exchange allows a taxpayer to sell income, investment or business property and replace it with a like-kind property.

Capital gains on the sale of this property are deferred or postponed as long as the IRS rules are meticulously followed. It is a wise tax and investment strategy as well as an estate planning tool. In theory, an investor could continue deferring capital gains on investment property until death, potentially avoiding them all together.

1984 Legislation Changed Some Aspects

In the early days of “like-kind exchanges,” the term was taken quite literally and often posed difficulties. For instance, if you owned a three-story brick apartment building that you wanted to sell through a 1031 exchange, you would have to find another three-story brick apartment building whose owner wanted to swap. Then the two of you would meet, and the exchange would take place.

3 Saving Habits to Steal and 3 to Skip

In the past, there were no time constraints on the exchange. The IRS demanded stricter controls on the process, which resulted in Congress passing in 1984 Section 1031(a). This legislation limited deferred exchanges, further defined “like-kind” property and established a timetable for completing the exchange.

Qualifying

Real estate property held for business use or investment qualifies for a 1031 Exchange. A personal residence does not qualify and, generally, a fix-and-flip property also doesn’t qualify because it fits into the category of property being held for sale. Vacation or second homes, which are not held as rentals do not qualify for 1031 treatment; however, there is a usage test under Paragraph 280 of the tax code that may apply to those properties. A tax expert should be consulted in this case.

Land, which is under development, and property purchased for resale do not qualify for tax-deferred treatment. Stocks, bonds, notes, inventory property, and a beneficial interest in a partnership are not considered “like-kind” property for exchange purposes.

To qualify as a 1031 exchange today, the transaction must take the form of an “exchange” rather than just a sale of one property with the subsequent purchase of another. First, the property being sold and the new replacement property must both be held for investment purposes or for productive use in a trade or a business. They must be “like-kind” properties.

The following types of real estate swaps fit the requirement for a qualified exchange of “like-kind” property:

•    An office in exchange for a shopping center
•    A shopping center in exchange for land
•    Land in exchange for an industrial building
•    An apartment building in exchange for an industrial building
•    A single family rental in exchange for a tenants in common (TIC) property

Today, you could exchange that brick apartment building for raw land, a warehouse, or a small office building. However, there are strict time constraints which must be met, or the 1031 Exchange will not be allowed, and tax consequences will be imposed.

Prior to 1984, virtually all exchanges were done simultaneously with the closing and transfer of the sold property (Relinquished Property), and the purchase of the new real estate (Replacement Property). In addition to the problems encountered when trying to finding a suitable property, there were difficulties with the simultaneous transfer of titles as well as funds. Not so today.

The delayed 1031 Exchange avoids those pre-1984 problems, but stricter deadlines are now imposed. A taxpayer who wants to complete an exchange, lists and markets property in the usual manner. When a buyer steps forward, and the purchase contract is executed, the seller enters into an exchange agreement with a qualified intermediary who, in turn, become the substitute seller. The exchange agreement usually calls for an assignment of the seller’s contract to the Intermediary. The closing takes place and, because the seller cannot touch the money, the Intermediary receives the proceeds due to the seller.

Exchanges Carry Time Restrictions

At that point, the first timing restriction, the 45-day rule for Identification, begins. The taxpayer must either close on or identify in writing a potential Replacement Property within 45 days from the closing and transfer of the original property. The time period is not negotiable, includes weekends and holidays, and the IRS will not make exceptions. If you exceed the time limit, your entire exchange can be disqualified, and taxes are sure to follow.

Types of Replacement Properties to Identify:

1.    Three properties without regard to their fair market value.
2.    Any number of properties as long as their aggregate fair market value at the end of the identification period does not exceed 200 percent of the aggregate fair market value of the relinquished property as of the transfer date.
3.    If the three-property rule and the 200 percent rule is exceeded, the exchange will not fail if the taxpayer purchases 95 percent of the aggregate fair market value of all identified properties.

What Is Boot?

Realistically, most investors follow the three-property rule so they can complete due diligence and select the one that works best for them that will close. Generally, the goal is to trade up to avoid the transfer of “boot” and keep the exchange tax-free.

“Boot” is the money or fair market value of any additional property received by the taxpayer through the exchange. Money includes all cash equivalents, debts, liabilities to which the exchanged property is subject. It is “non-like-kind” property, and the rules governing it during the exchange are complex. Suffice it to say, without expert advice, receiving “boot” can result in taxes.

Subject to the 180-Day Rule

Once a replacement property is selected, the taxpayer has 180 days from the date the Relinquished Property was transferred to the buyer to close on the new Replacement Property. However, if the due date on the investor’s tax return, with any extensions, for the tax year in which the Relinquished Property was sold is earlier than the 180-day period, then the exchange must be completed by that earlier date. Remember, a portion of this period has already been used during the Identification Period. There are no extensions and no exceptions to this rule, so it is advisable to schedule the closing prior to the deadline.

Since the law requires that the taxpayer not touch the proceeds from the first transaction, the Qualified Intermediary acquires the Replacement Property from the seller at closing and after the transaction is completed, then transfers it to the taxpayer.

Are Not for Do-It-Yourself Investors

It is a basic description of how a successful 1031 Exchange works. Depending upon the taxpayer’s situation, the type of property relinquished, and the characteristics of the Replacement Property, other aspects of the Exchange may be involved. Its completion may become complex, and experts should always be consulted. This is no task for a “do it yourself” investor.

Using the power of the 1031 Exchange to build and preserve wealth and assets, generate cash flow from investments, restructure, diversify and consolidate real estate holdings is the right of every owner of investment property in the United States. American taxpayers should never have to pay capital gains taxes on the sale of their investment property if they intend to reinvest those proceeds in more investment property.

Today’s author – Elizabeth Weintraub

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.

Ohio Income Tax Updates January 29, 2020

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : 2019 Taxes, General, tax changes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Tip, Taxes, Taxes , add a comment

A filing season approaches, we are often focused on the federal changes to tax law, but one shouldn’t fail to keep their eyes and ears open to the state changes.  For those of us in Ohio, the 2019 tax law changes were fairly mild.  Below are a few of the key changes to Ohio tax law for the 2019 tax year.

Change in Tax Brackets:

Following the example of the Federal government, Ohio has decreased the number of tax brackets and overall tax rates which are applicable to the 2019 tax year.  The change in rates are displayed below:

Ohio Earned Income Credit:

The Ohio Earned Income Credit (EIC) was also expanded and simplified for 2019.  Historically, the credit was calculated utilizing 10% of the Federal EIC, and possibly subject to limitations based on income.  For the 2019 tax year, the credit is simply 30% of the Federal EIC.

Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI):

The 2019 tax law introduces a new term for purposes of means testing.  Means testing is applied to determine exemption amounts and qualifications for certain credits.  Historically, Ohio Adjusted Gross Income (OAGI) was used in means testing.  The primary difference with this new metric is that income which would have been excluded under Ohio’s generous Business Income Deduction is now included for means testing.  Note, that this doesn’t mean that the business income is now taxable.  It simply means that this income will be considered when determining exemptions and credit qualifications.

In the ever-changing world of taxes, the changes take place not only on the Federal level, but on the state, and even local as well.  We strive to stay abreast of these changes, and help you make the best tax-conscious decisions. 

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 – Josh Campbell

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

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

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

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

                            -Mark Bradstreet

5 questions and answers about kids and money

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

Does my kid need to file a tax return?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is responsible for filing the kid’s return?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the most-common ones.

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

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

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

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

Two higher education tax credits

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

Head of household filing status

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

Student loan interest deduction

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

The bottom line

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

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

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

This Week’s Author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                            -Mark Bradstreet

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

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

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

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

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

Perks advisers like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words of caution

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit Given to:  Jeff Brown. This appeared in the July 9, 2019, print edition of the Wall Street Journal as ‘The ‘Solo’ 401(k) Is Often Overlooked.’ Mr. Brown is a writer in Livingston, Mont. He can be reached at reports@wsj.com.

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

This Week’s Author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | 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 | When The Questions Are The Answers June 26, 2019

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

Let’s take a break from tax topics this week. Yes, even I sometimes get tired of talking about income taxes. So, the topic this week is about leadership. All of us lead someone. Of course, the most important person to lead is yourself. And, as the old saying goes, if you can’t lead yourself then how can you lead someone else?

True leaders don’t give out answers. Often, they don’t know the answers. But the good leader knows their staff has inside them the answers that they seek. Good questions from a good leader help reveal these answers.  

This is further explained along with some examples in the following WSJ article, To Be a Better Leader, Ask Better Questions written by Hal Gregersen. It was published on Tuesday, May 14, 2019.  

                               -Mark Bradstreet

It is often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different outcome.

Well, the same can be said of questions: Keep asking the same kind of question, and it is insane to think you are going to get a different kind of answer.

If you want a dramatically better answer, the key is to ask a better question.

In that one simple statement I have found a career’s worth of research, teaching and advisory work. No one raises an objection when they hear it—who could argue with the value of brilliant reframing? But at the same time, that statement alone is rarely enough. Most people want to be handed the five paradigm-smashing questions to ask.

Unfortunately, that isn’t possible. But what is possible is creating the conditions where the right questions are more likely to bubble up. To that end, here are some clear, concrete, measurable steps that any boss—or anyone, for that matter—can take to come up with those paradigm-smashing questions we all seek.

1. Understand what kinds of questions spark creative thinking.

There are lots of questions you can ask. But only the best really knocks down barriers to creative thinking and channel energy down new, more productive pathways. A question that does has five traits. It reframes the problem. It intrigues the imagination. It invites others’ thinking. It opens up space for different answers. And it’s nonaggressive—not posed to embarrass, humiliate or assert power over the other party.

One CEO I know is aware that his position can get in the way of getting honest information that will challenge his view of things. Instead of coming at his managers with something like, “Competitor X beat us to the punch with that move—how did we let that happen?” he gets more useful input with questions like, “What are you wrestling with and how can I help?” He asks customers and supply-chain partners: “If you were in my shoes, what would you be doing differently than what you see us doing today?”

Think about how these questions change the whole equation. People don’t start off defensive. The problem isn’t already tightly framed. The questions are open-ended, and the answers can be imaginative—rather than telling the boss what he wants to hear.

If you want to turn this first point into a trackable activity, how about this: Start noting in a daily diary how many questions you’ve asked that meet the five criteria.

2. Create the habit of asking questions.

Many bosses simply aren’t used to asking questions; they’re used to giving answers. So, in the early stages of building your questioning capacity, it’s helpful to start by copying other people’s questions. It’s the equivalent of practicing your scales. Once you’ve got the scales down, you can start to improvise.

You could do worse than to follow the questions asked by management thinker Peter Drucker, who liked to jump-start strategic thinking by asking: “What changes have recently happened that don’t fit ‘what everyone knows’”?

Another example: A leader in a consumer packaged-goods company constantly asks: “What more can we do to delight the customer at the point of purchase? And what more to delight them at the point of consumption?”

Again, think about what that does. Sure, the CEO could constantly repeat that the company wants to satisfy consumers. But by asking this question, it builds the habit of thinking in questions. And that, in turn, leads to daily inquiry about matters large and small, and an organization that keeps pushing its competitive advantages forward.

3. Fuel that habit by making yourself generate new questions.

Don’t stop with that generic question set, no matter how well you think it covers the bases. It will become just another activity rut reinforcing today’s assumptions if you and others become too familiar with it. Your goal is to generate new and better questions, not to cap your questioning career at the level of playing flawless scales.

New Perspectives, New Solutions

If you or your team are stuck on a problem, stop and spend four minutes generating nothing but questions about it. As in brainstorming, go for high volume and do no editing in progress. This will often yield a new way to look at the challenge and at least one new idea to solve it. Here’s an example of a question burst:

Instead, every day, note something in your environment that is intriguing and possibly a signal of change in the air. Then, restrain yourself from issuing a comment on it—or if it’s your habit, a tweet—and instead take a moment to articulate the questions it raises.

Then share the most compelling of those questions with someone else. Engage with it for a minute. To some extent, this is doing “reps,” exercising your questioning muscles so they’ll be strong enough when the occasion demands. But it’s also more than that, because chances are it will actually be one of these many, seemingly small, questions that yields your next big breakthrough.

Let me offer a well-known example. Blake Mycoskie was in Argentina when by his account he noticed a lot of children running around barefoot. He didn’t need to ask why they didn’t have shoes—obviously they were poor—but here’s the question it brought him to: Is there a sustainable way to provide children with shoes without having to rely on donations? And thus, he launched the social enterprise Toms, with its famous “one-for-one” business model.

4. Respond with the power of the pause.

When someone comes to you with a problem, don’t immediately respond with an answer. This is harder than it sounds, because you have probably internalized a sense long ago that you’re the boss because you’re decisive and have good judgment—in other words, you have the best answers.

Instead, make it your habit to respond with a question—ideally one that reframes the problem, but at least one that draws out more of your colleague’s thoughts on the matter. I’m not talking about the cop-out rejoinder of, “Well, what do YOU think we should do?” Help the person think through how the decision should be made, with questions like: “What are we optimizing for?” “What’s the most important thing we have to achieve with whatever direction we take?” Or: “What makes this decision so hard? What problem felt like this in the past?”

The payoff here comes in two forms. You’re teaching the colleague the value of pausing to get the question right before rushing to the answer. And nine times out of 10, you’re going to wind up with a better answer than the one you would have blurted out with less deliberation.

5. Brainstorm for questions.

This is an idea that is so simple, and involves an exercise so fast, that it constantly surprises me how effective it is. Whenever you or your team is at an impasse, or there is a sense that some insight is eluding you regarding a problem or opportunity, just stop and spend four minutes generating nothing but questions about it. Don’t spend a second answering the questions, or explaining why you posed a certain one. As in brainstorming, go for high volume and do no editing in progress. See if you can generate at least 15-20.

Eighty percent of the time, I find, the exercise yields some new angle of attack on the problem, and it virtually always re-energizes people to go at it with renewed gusto.

Here’s an example from an innovation team in a consumer-goods company. Struggling to come up with a new concept to test, we tried one of those question bursts. It started with, “What if we launched a response to [a competitor’s product] and did it better?” But soon enough it arrived at, “Are we stuck on assuming a certain price range? What if a customer was willing to give us 10 times that—what could we deliver that would be that valuable to them?” Bingo—the team zeroed in on that question as having real juice in it, and started generating more exciting ideas.

6. Reward your questioners.

Finally, keep track of how you respond when someone in the room asks a question that challenges how you’ve been approaching a problem or feels like it threatens to derail a solution train already leaving the station.

I remember hearing from executives at one company that the boss always surprised his top team by being willing to hear out even the craziest ideas. When others in the room were shaking their heads and hastening to move along, he would be the one to say, “Wait, say more…” to find the part of that flight of fantasy that could work.

If there’s one constant theme here, it’s the idea that bosses should reconceive what their primary job is. They aren’t there to come up with today’s best answers, or even just to get their teams to come up with them. Their job is to build their organization’s capacity for constant innovation.

Their enterprise’s future—and their own career trajectory—depends on their resolve to ask better questions.

Credit given to By Hal Gregersen. Dr. Gregersen is executive director of the MIT Leadership Center, a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and author of “Questions Are the Answer.” He can be reached at reports@wsj.com.

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

This Week’s Author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.

Tax Tip of the Week | IRS Audits June 19, 2019

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

No one in their right mind would welcome an IRS audit. However, sometime during your life, you may expect to have an IRS audit of some sort, even if only a correspondence audit. Other types of IRS audits include what they call a field audit which occurs at your place of business and an office audit which occurs at the IRS office. From time to time, clients will mention to me that they don’t fear an audit because they have done nothing wrong and have all of the necessary substantiation. Even, in the best of cases, audits are no fun – they are ALWAYS a huge time suck for you and for your professional and, thusly, can be quite expensive.

A further note about correspondence audits – at least half of the tax notices you receive from the IRS are incorrect. Yet, too many taxpayers upon receiving a notice with a balance due simply send the IRS a check. Yes, the IRS loves people like that! Upon receipt of any IRS correspondence, please immediately relay it to your CPA for an appropriate review and response.

It is rare, but not entirely unheard of, for an IRS agent to appear at your home or place of business. If that were to happen and regardless of how friendly they appear your best response is typically very simple. Be polite and inform the agent your CPA will be handling the questions on your behalf. Then, give the agent the name and contact information of your CPA. Ask the agent nicely to call your CPA with any questions that they may have. The same is also true for the receipt of an IRS letter notifying you that your income tax returns are under audit. Get that letter to your accounting firm so they can handle the audit on your behalf. It is not in your best interest to speak to the IRS agent before, during or after the audit. That is the job of your professional.  

The below article written by Jane Hodges – HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW ABOUT IRS AUDITS? was published in the WSJ on March 25, 2019. It provides further information on the IRS process.

                                          –    Mark Bradstreet

The Internal Revenue Service audits tax returns every year—striking fear in the hearts of many whose accidental or deliberate errors may have led them to underpay the U.S. Treasury.

While the prospect can be terrifying, very few returns are actually audited and many audits are resolved through correspondence. The volume of IRS audits has declined in recent years to 933,785 in 2017 from 1.56 million in 2011, according to IRS data. Some audits even result in a refund. Many, of course, result in tax liabilities.

Still, it never hurts to prepare taxes with care, save records and understand changing tax laws (or work with professionals who do) so your returns will be less likely to raise flags.

What follows is a quiz to help readers hone their smarts about IRS audits.

1. What does the IRS call an audit?

A) Audit
B) Examination
C) Tax year review
D) Tax interview

Answer: B. Audits are referred to as examinations, and a taxpayer being audited corresponds with or meets an “examiner” assigned to his or her case.

2. What percentage of returns were audited during 2017?

A) 0.5%
B) 1.5%
C) 3.8%
D) 6.2%

Answer: A. During fiscal 2017, the IRS audited 0.5% of the 196 million returns it received during the calendar year 2016. That was down from 0.7% the previous year.

3. How does the IRS choose which tax returns to audit?

A) It hires private investigators
B) It looks at tax returns associated with filers undergoing existing audits
C) Computer screening
D) It reviews those whose income has more than doubled in a 10-year period

Answer: B and C. The IRS looks at the company that audit subjects keep. “We may select your returns when they involve issues or transactions with other taxpayers, such as business partners or investors, whose returns were selected for audit,” it says in an FAQ about audits on an IRS website. It also uses random computer screening in which algorithms track “norms” for deductions and expenses relative to the filer’s income and other factors.

4. How does the IRS notify a person or business of an audit?

A) By letter
B) By phone
C) Through email
D) Via process server

Answer: A. The IRS typically notifies taxpayers of audits in letters citing what years are under examination and which deductions or aspects of the returns need verification, substantiation or discussion. Once the audit is under way, a representative may call, but the IRS doesn’t initiate audits over the telephone. If you get a call from someone claiming to represent the IRS and notifying you of an audit, it is likely a scam.

5. Where are audits conducted?

A) In an IRS office
B) At the taxpayer’s home or place of business
C) Via correspondence
D) At the office of an authorized representative (tax attorney, CPA, enrolled agent)

Answer: Any of the above, depending on the degree of the inquiry or where the taxpayer stores records or conducts business and other factors. The IRS generally makes the final determination.

6. What percentage of tax audits are conducted by correspondence?

A) 12.6%
B) 32.5%
C) 50.9%
D) 70.8%

Answer: D. During fiscal 2017, when the IRS examined tax returns for the prior year and before, some 70.8% of audits were conducted by correspondence.

7. How long does the IRS expect taxpayers to keep tax records?

A) Forever
B) Five years following the date a return is filed
C) Three years following the date a return is filed or two years from the date a tax is paid
D) Six years, or seven years if the taxpayer is writing off bad debt or worthless securities

Answer: C, and sometimes D. Generally, the IRS suggests taxpayers keep tax records for three years after filing a return or two years from the date they paid tax. In some circumstances, say, if you failed to report income, didn’t file a return, or were flagged for filing a fraudulent return, it’s advisable to keep records longer.

8. Which household income level experiences a 12.5% incidence of audits?

A) $125,000 or more
B) $200,000 or more
C) $250,000 or more
D) $1 million or more

Answer: D. According to Intuit, 1% of taxpayers earning $200,000 or less are audited. Beyond that, the more a taxpayer earns, the more likely an audit is. Some 4% of those earning more than $200,000 are audited, and 12.5% of those earning $1 million or more are audited.

9. When filing taxes, what form of filing is most error-prone, according to the IRS?

A) Electronic filing
B) Returns filed by mail
C) Returns filed from abroad
D) Returns that are filed after an extension request

Answer: B. According to IRS information provided to TurboTax, those who file a return by mail show a 21% incidence of errors, while those who file electronically show only a 0.5% incidence of errors. TurboTax does not cite a reason why online filers have less errors, but presumably online filing software runs math or does automatic calculations which could reduce math-related errors.

10. How far back does the IRS go when choosing returns to audit?

A) 2 years
B) 3 years
C) 6 years
D) 10 years

Answer: B and C. The IRS generally goes back no more than three years in choosing returns to audit, but if it finds a “substantial error,” the agency says it may go back as far as six years.

Credit Given to: By Jane Hodges. Ms. Hodges is a freelance writer in Seattle and has been audited. She can be reached at reports@wsj.com. This appeared in the March 25, 2019, print edition as ‘How Much Do You Know About IRS Audits?’

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.