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Tax Fun Facts

Why making annual exclusion gifts before year end can still be a good idea

A tried-and-true estate planning strategy is to make tax-free gifts to loved ones during life, because it reduces potential estate tax at death. There are many ways to make tax-free gifts, but one of the simplest is to take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion with direct gifts. Even in a potentially changing estate tax environment, making annual exclusion gifts before year end can still be a good idea.

What is the annual exclusion?

The 2016 gift tax annual exclusion allows you to give up to $14,000 per recipient tax-free without using up any of your $5.45 million lifetime gift tax exemption. If you and your spouse “split” the gift, you can give $28,000 per recipient. The gifts are also generally excluded from the generation-skipping transfer tax, which typically applies to transfers to grandchildren and others more than one generation below you.

The gifted assets are removed from your taxable estate, which can be especially advantageous if you expect them to appreciate. That’s because the future appreciation can also avoid gift and estate taxes.

Making gifts in 2016

The exclusion is scheduled to remain at $14,000 ($28,000 for split gifts) in 2017. But that’s not a reason to skip making annual exclusion gifts this year. You need to use your 2016 exclusion by Dec. 31 or you’ll lose it.

The exclusion doesn’t carry from one year to the next. For example, if you don’t make an annual exclusion gift to your daughter this year, you can’t add $14,000 to your 2017 exclusion to make a $28,000 tax-free gift to her next year.

While the President-elect and Republicans in Congress have indicated that they want to repeal the estate tax, it’s uncertain exactly what tax law changes will be passed, since the Republicans don’t have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Plus, in some states there’s a state-level estate tax. So if you have a large estate, making 2016 annual exclusion gifts is generally still well worth considering.

We can help you determine how to make the most of your 2016 gift tax annual exclusion.

 


There’s still time to benefit on your 2016 tax bill by buying business assets

In order to take advantage of two important depreciation tax breaks for business assets, you must place the assets in service by the end of the tax year. So you still have time to act for 2016.

Section 179 deduction

The Sec. 179 deduction is valuable because it allows businesses to deduct as depreciation up to 100% of the cost of qualifying assets in year 1 instead of depreciating the cost over a number of years. Sec. 179 can be used for fixed assets, such as equipment, software and leasehold improvements. Beginning in 2016, air conditioning and heating units were added to the list.

The maximum Sec. 179 deduction for 2016 is $500,000. The deduction begins to phase out dollar-for-dollar for 2016 when total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceed $2,010,000.

Real property improvements used to be ineligible. However, an exception that began in 2010 was made permanent for tax years beginning in 2016. Under the exception, you can claim a Sec. 179 deduction of up to $500,000 for certain qualified real property improvement costs.

Note: You can use Sec. 179 to buy an eligible heavy SUV for business use, but the rules are different from buying other assets. Heavy SUVs are subject to a $25,000 deduction limitation.

First-year bonus depreciation

For qualified new assets (including software) that your business places in service in 2016, you can claim 50% first-year bonus depreciation. (Used assets don’t qualify.) This break is available when buying computer systems, software, machinery, equipment, and office furniture.

Additionally, 50% bonus depreciation can be claimed for qualified improvement property, which means any eligible improvement to the interior of a nonresidential building if the improvement is made after the date the building was first placed in service. However, certain improvements aren’t eligible, such as enlarging a building and installing an elevator or escalator.

Contemplate what your business needs now

If you’ve been thinking about buying business assets, consider doing it before year end. This article explains only some of the rules involved with the Sec. 179 and bonus depreciation tax breaks. Contact us for ideas on how you can maximize your depreciation deductions.

 


Ensure your year-end donations will be deductible on your 2016 return

Donations to qualified charities are generally fully deductible, and they may be the easiest deductible expense to time to your tax advantage. After all, you control exactly when and how much you give. To ensure your donations will be deductible on your 2016 return, you must make them by year end to qualified charities.

When’s the delivery date?

To be deductible on your 2016 return, a charitable donation must be made by Dec. 31, 2016. According to the IRS, a donation generally is “made” at the time of its “unconditional delivery.” But what does this mean? Is it the date you, for example, write a check or make an online gift via your credit card? Or is it the date the charity actually receives the funds — or perhaps the date of the charity’s acknowledgment of your gift?

The delivery date depends in part on what you donate and how you donate it. Here are a few examples for common donations:

Check. The date you mail it.

Credit card. The date you make the charge.

Pay-by-phone account. The date the financial institution pays the amount.

Stock certificate. The date you mail the properly endorsed stock certificate to the charity.

Is the organization “qualified”?

To be deductible, a donation also must be made to a “qualified charity” — one that’s eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

The IRS’s online search tool, Exempt Organizations (EO) Select Check, can help you more easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can access EO Select Check at https://apps.irs.gov/app/eos/ . Information about organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions is updated monthly.

Many additional rules apply to the charitable donation deduction, so please contact us if you have questions about the deductibility of a gift you’ve made or are considering making. But act soon — you don’t have much time left to make donations that will reduce your 2016 tax bill.

 


A brief overview of the President-elect’s tax plan for individuals

Now that Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States and Republicans have retained control of both chambers of Congress, an overhaul of the U.S. tax code next year is likely. President-elect Trump’s tax reform plan, released earlier this year, includes the following changes that would affect individuals:

  • Reducing the number of income tax brackets from seven to three, with rates on ordinary income of 12%, 25% and 33% (reducing rates for many taxpayers but resulting in a tax hike for certain single filers),
  • Aligning the 0%, 15% and 20% long-term capital gains and qualified dividends rates with the new brackets,
  • Eliminating the head of household filing status (which could cause rates to go up for some of these filers, who would have to file as singles),
  • Abolishing the net investment income tax,
  • Eliminating the personal exemption (but expanding child-related breaks),
  • More than doubling the standard deduction, to $15,000 for singles and $30,000 for married couples filing jointly,
  • Capping itemized deductions at $100,000 for single filers and $200,000 for joint filers,
  • Abolishing the alternative minimum tax, and
  • Abolishing the federal gift and estate tax, but disallowing the step-up in basis for estates worth more than $10 million.

 

The House Republicans’ plan is somewhat different. And because Republicans didn’t reach the 60 Senate members necessary to become filibuster-proof, they may need to compromise on some issues in order to get their legislation through the Senate. The bottom line is that exactly which proposals will make it into legislation and signed into law is uncertain, but major changes are just about a sure thing.

If it looks like you could be eligible for lower income tax rates next year, it may make sense to accelerate deductible expenses into 2016 (when they may be more valuable) and defer income to 2017 (when it might be subject to a lower tax rate). But if it looks like your rates could be higher next year, the opposite approach may be beneficial.

In either situation, there is some risk to these strategies, given the uncertainty as to exactly what tax law changes will be enacted. We can help you create the best year-end tax strategy based on how potential changes may affect your specific situation.

 


There’s still time to set up a retirement plan for 2016

Saving for retirement can be tough if you’re putting most of your money and time into operating a small business. However, many retirement plans aren’t difficult to set up and it’s important to start saving so you can enjoy a comfortable future.

So if you haven’t already set up a tax-advantaged plan, consider doing so this year.

Note: If you have employees, they generally must be allowed to participate in the plan, provided they meet the qualification requirements.

Here are three options:

  1. Profit-sharing plan. This is a defined contribution plan that allows discretionary employer contributions and flexibility in plan design. You can make deductible 2016 contributions as late as the due date of your 2016 tax return, including extensions — provided your plan exists on Dec. 31, 2016. For 2016, the maximum contribution is $53,000, or $59,000 if you are age 50 or older.
  2. Simplified Employee Pension (SEP). This is also a defined contribution plan that provides benefits similar to those of a profit-sharing plan. But you can establish a SEP in 2017 and still make deductible 2016 contributions as late as the due date of your 2016 income tax return, including extensions. In addition, a SEP is easy to administer. For 2016, the maximum SEP contribution is $53,000.
  3. Defined benefit plan. This plan sets a future pension benefit and then actuarially calculates the contributions needed to attain that benefit. The maximum annual benefit for 2016 is generally $210,000 or 100% of average earned income for the highest three consecutive years, if less. Because it’s actuarially driven, the contribution needed to attain the projected future annual benefit may exceed the maximum contributions allowed by other plans, depending on your age and the desired benefit. You can make deductible 2016 defined benefit plan contributions until your return due date, provided your plan exists on Dec. 31, 2016.

 

Contact us if you want more information about setting up the best retirement plan in your situation.

 


It’s critical to be aware of the tax rules surrounding your NQDC plan

Nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC) plans pay executives at some time in the future for services to be currently performed. They differ from qualified plans, such as 401(k)s, in that:

  • NQDC plans can favor certain highly compensated employees,
  • Although the executive’s tax liability on the deferred income also may be deferred, the employer can’t deduct the NQDC until the executive recognizes it as income, and
  • Any NQDC plan funding isn’t protected from the employer’s creditors.

 

They also differ in terms of some of the rules that apply to them, and it’s critical to be aware of those rules.

 

What you need to know

Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 409A and related IRS guidance have tightened and clarified the rules for NQDC plans. Some of the most important rules to be aware of affect:

Timing of initial deferral elections. Executives must make the initial deferral election before the year in which they perform the services for which the compensation is earned. So, for instance, if you wish to defer part of your 2017 compensation to 2018 or beyond, you generally must make the election by the end of 2016.

Timing of distributions. Benefits must be paid on a specified date, according to a fixed payment schedule or after the occurrence of a specified event — such as death, disability, separation from service, change in ownership or control of the employer, or an unforeseeable emergency.

Elections to change timing or form. The timing of benefits can be delayed but not accelerated. Elections to change the timing or form of a payment must be made at least 12 months in advance. Also, new payment dates must be at least five years after the date the payment would otherwise have been made.

Employment tax issues

Another important NQDC tax issue is that employment taxes are generally due when services are performed or when there’s no longer a substantial risk of forfeiture, whichever is later. This is true even though the compensation isn’t actually paid or recognized for income tax purposes until later years. So your employer may:

  • Withhold your portion of the tax from your salary,
  • Ask you to write a check for the liability, or
  • Pay your portion, in which case you’ll have additional taxable income.

 

Consequences of noncompliance

 

The penalties for noncompliance can be severe: Plan participants (that is, you, the executive) will be taxed on plan benefits at the time of vesting, and a 20% penalty and potential interest charges also will apply. So if you’re receiving NQDC, you should check with your employer to make sure it’s addressing any compliance issues. And we can help incorporate your NQDC or other executive compensation into your year-end tax planning and a comprehensive tax planning strategy for 2016 and beyond.


What the self-employed need to know about employment taxes

In addition to income tax, you must pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on earned income, such as salary and self-employment income. The 12.4% Social Security tax applies only up to the Social Security wage base of $118,500 for 2016. All earned income is subject to the 2.9% Medicare tax.

The taxes are split equally between the employee and the employer. But if you’re self-employed, you pay both the employee and employer portions of these taxes on your self-employment income.

Additional 0.9% Medicare tax

Another employment tax that higher-income taxpayers must be aware of is the additional 0.9% Medicare tax. It applies to FICA wages and net self-employment income exceeding $200,000 per year ($250,000 for married filing jointly and $125,000 for married filing separately).

If your wages or self-employment income varies significantly from year to year or you’re close to the threshold for triggering the additional Medicare tax, income timing strategies may help you avoid or minimize it. For example, as a self-employed taxpayer, you may have flexibility on when you purchase new equipment or invoice customers. If your self-employment income is from a part-time activity and you’re also an employee elsewhere, perhaps you can time with your employer when you receive a bonus.

Something else to consider in this situation is the withholding rules. Employers must withhold the additional Medicare tax beginning in the pay period when wages exceed $200,000 for the calendar year — without regard to an employee’s filing status or income from other sources. So your employer might not withhold the tax even though you are liable for it due to your self-employment income.

If you do owe the tax but your employer isn’t withholding it, consider filing a W-4 form to request additional income tax withholding, which can be used to cover the shortfall and avoid interest and penalties. Or you can make estimated tax payments.

Deductions for the self-employed

For the self-employed, the employer portion of employment taxes (6.2% for Social Security tax and 1.45% for Medicare tax) is deductible above the line. (No portion of the additional Medicare tax is deductible, because there’s no employer portion of that tax.)

As a self-employed taxpayer, you may benefit from other above-the-line deductions as well. You can deduct 100% of health insurance costs for yourself, your spouse and your dependents, up to your net self-employment income. You also can deduct contributions to a retirement plan and, if you’re eligible, an HSA for yourself. Above-the-line deductions are particularly valuable because they reduce your adjusted gross income (AGI) and modified AGI (MAGI), which are the triggers for certain additional taxes and the phaseouts of many tax breaks.

For more information on the ins and outs of employment taxes and tax breaks for the self-employed, please contact us.


Are you timing business income and expenses to your tax advantage?

Typically, it’s better to defer tax. One way is through controlling when your business recognizes income and incurs deductible expenses. Here are two timing strategies that can help businesses do this:

  1. Defer income to next year. If your business uses the cash method of accounting, you can defer billing for your products or services. Or, if you use the accrual method, you can delay shipping products or delivering services.
  2. Accelerate deductible expenses into the current year. If you’re a cash-basis taxpayer, you may make a state estimated tax payment before Dec. 31, so you can deduct it this year rather than next. Both cash- and accrual-basis taxpayers can charge expenses on a credit card and deduct them in the year charged, regardless of when the credit card bill is paid.

 

But if you think you’ll be in a higher tax bracket next year (or you expect tax rates to go up), consider taking the opposite approach instead — accelerating income and deferring deductible expenses. This will increase your tax bill this year but can save you tax over the two-year period.

 

These are only some of the nuances to consider. Please contact us to discuss what timing strategies will work to your tax advantage, based on your specific situation.


Tax-smart options for your old retirement plan when you change jobs

There’s a lot to think about when you change jobs, and it’s easy for a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan to get lost in the shuffle. But to keep building tax-deferred savings, it’s important to make an informed decision about your old plan. First and foremost, don’t take a lump-sum distribution from your old employer’s retirement plan. It generally will be taxable and, if you’re under age 59½, subject to a 10% early-withdrawal penalty. Here are three tax-smart alternatives:

1. Stay put. You may be able to leave your money in your old plan. But if you’ll be participating in your new employer’s plan or you already have an IRA, keeping track of multiple plans can make managing your retirement assets more difficult. Also consider how well the old plan’s investment options meet your needs.

2. Roll over to your new employer’s plan. This may be beneficial if it leaves you with only one retirement plan to keep track of. But evaluate the new plan’s investment options.

3. Roll over to an IRA. If you participate in your new employer’s plan, this will require keeping track of two plans. But it may be the best alternative because IRAs offer nearly unlimited investment choices.

If you choose a rollover, request a direct rollover from your old plan to your new plan or IRA. If instead the funds are sent to you by check, you’ll need to make an indirect rollover (that is, deposit the funds into an IRA) within 60 days to avoid tax and potential penalties.

Also, be aware that the check you receive from your old plan will, unless an exception applies, be net of 20% federal income tax withholding. If you don’t roll over the gross amount (making up for the withheld amount with other funds), you’ll be subject to income tax — and potentially the 10% penalty — on the difference.

There are additional issues to consider when deciding what to do with your old retirement plan. We can help you make an informed decision — and avoid potential tax traps.


Tax impact of investor vs. trader status

Now’s the time to start thinking about “bunching” — miscellaneous itemized deductions, that is

Many expenses that may qualify as miscellaneous itemized deductions are deductible only to the extent they exceed, in aggregate, 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Bunching these expenses into a single year may allow you to exceed this “floor.” So now is a good time to add up your potential deductions to date to see if bunching is a smart strategy for you this year.

Should you bunch into 2016?

If your miscellaneous itemized deductions are getting close to — or they already exceed — the 2% floor, consider incurring and paying additional expenses by Dec. 31, such as:

  • Deductible investment expenses, including advisory fees, custodial fees and publications
  • Professional fees, such as tax planning and preparation, accounting, and certain legal fees
  • Unreimbursed employee business expenses, including vehicle costs, travel, and allowable meals and entertainment.

 

But beware …

 

These expenses aren’t deductible for alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes. So don’t bunch them into 2016 if you might be subject to the AMT this year.

Also, if your AGI exceeds the applicable threshold, certain deductions — including miscellaneous itemized deductions — are reduced by 3% of the AGI amount that exceeds the threshold (not to exceed 80% of otherwise allowable deductions). For 2016, the thresholds are $259,400 (single), $285,350 (head of household), $311,300 (married filing jointly) and $155,650 (married filing separately).

If you’d like more information on miscellaneous itemized deductions, the AMT or the itemized deduction limit, let us know.


Prepaid tuition vs. college savings: Which type of 529 plan is better?

Section 529 plans provide a tax-advantaged way to help pay for college expenses. Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • Although contributions aren’t deductible for federal purposes, plan assets can grow tax-deferred.
  • Some states offer tax incentives for contributing in the form of deductions or credits.
  • The plans usually offer high contribution limits, and there are no income limits for contributing.

 

Prepaid tuition plans

 

With this type of 529 plan, if your contract is for four years of tuition, tuition is guaranteed regardless of its cost at the time the beneficiary actually attends the school. This can provide substantial savings if you invest when the child is still very young.

One downside is that there’s uncertainty in how benefits will be applied if the beneficiary attends a different school. Another is that the plan doesn’t cover costs other than tuition, such as room and board.

Savings plan

This type of 529 plan can be used to pay a student’s expenses at most postsecondary educational institutions. Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, supplies, computer equipment, software, Internet service and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and typically for state purposes as well, thus making the tax deferral a permanent savings.

The biggest downside may be that you don’t have direct control over investment decisions; you’re limited to the options the plan offers. Additionally, for funds already in the plan, you can make changes to your investment options only twice during the year or when you change beneficiaries.

But each time you make a new contribution to a 529 savings plan, you can select a different option for that contribution, regardless of how many times you contribute throughout the year. And every 12 months you can make a tax-free rollover to a different 529 plan for the same child.

As you can see, each 529 plan type has its pluses and minuses. Whether a prepaid tuition plan or a savings plan is better depends on your situation and goals. If you’d like help choosing, please contact us.


Tax impact of investor vs. trader status

If you invest, whether you’re considered an investor or a trader can have a significant impact on your tax bill. Do you know the difference?

Investors

Most people who trade stocks are classified as investors for tax purposes. This means any net gains are treated as capital gains rather than ordinary income.

That’s good if your net gains are long-term (that is, you’ve held the investment more than a year) because you can enjoy the lower long-term capital gains rate. However, any investment-related expenses (such as margin interest, stock tracking software, etc.) are deductible only if you itemize and, in some cases, only if the total of the expenses exceeds 2% of your adjusted gross income.

Traders

Traders have it better in some situations. Their expenses reduce gross income even if they can’t itemize deductions and not just for regular tax purposes, but also for alternative minimum tax purposes.

Plus, in certain circumstances, if traders have a net loss for the year, they can claim it as an ordinary loss (so it can offset other ordinary income) rather than a capital loss. Capital losses are limited to a $3,000 ($1,500 if married filing separately) per year deduction once any capital gains have been offset.

Passing the trader test

What does it take to successfully meet the test for trader status? The answer is twofold:

1. The trading must be “substantial.” While there’s no bright line test, the courts have tended to view more than a thousand trades a year, spread over most of the available trading days, as substantial.

2. The trading must be designed to try to catch the swings in the daily market movements. In other words, you must be attempting to profit from these short-term changes rather than from the long-term holding of investments. So the average duration for holding any one position needs to be very short, generally only a day or two.

If you satisfy these conditions, the chances are good that you’d ultimately be able to prove trader vs. investor status. Of course, even if you don’t satisfy one of the tests, you might still prevail, but the odds against you are higher. If you have questions, please contact us.


Documentation is the key to business expense deductions

If you have incomplete or missing records and get audited by the IRS, your business will likely lose out on valuable deductions. Here are two recent U.S. Tax Court cases that help illustrate the rules for documenting deductions.

Case 1: Insufficient records

In the first case, the court found that a taxpayer with a consulting business provided no proof to substantiate more than $52,000 in advertising expenses and $12,000 in travel expenses for the two years in question.

The business owner said the travel expenses were incurred ”caring for his business.“ That isn’t enough. ”The taxpayer bears the burden of proving that claimed business expenses were actually incurred and were ordinary and necessary,“ the court stated. In addition, businesses must keep and produce ”records sufficient to enable the IRS to determine the correct tax liability.“ (TC Memo 2016-158)

Case 2: Documents destroyed

In another case, a taxpayer was denied many of the deductions claimed for his company. He traveled frequently for the business, which developed machine parts. In addition to travel, meals and entertainment, he also claimed printing and consulting deductions.

The taxpayer recorded expenses in a spiral notebook and day planner and kept his records in a leased storage unit. While on a business trip to China, his documents were destroyed after the city where the storage unit was located acquired it by eminent domain.

There’s a way for taxpayers to claim expenses if substantiating documents are lost through circumstances beyond their control (for example, in a fire or flood). However, the court noted that a taxpayer still has to ”undertake a ‘reasonable reconstruction,’ which includes substantiation through secondary evidence.“

The court allowed 40% of the taxpayer’s travel, meals and entertainment expenses, but denied the remainder as well as the consulting and printing expenses. The reason? The taxpayer didn’t reconstruct those expenses through third-party sources or testimony from individuals whom he’d paid. (TC Memo 2016-135)

Be prepared

Keep detailed, accurate records to protect your business deductions. Record details about expenses as soon as possible after they’re incurred (for example, the date, place, business purpose, etc.). Keep more than just proof of payment. Also keep other documents, such as receipts, credit card slips and invoices. If you’re unsure of what you need, check with us.


Are frequent flyer miles ever taxable?

If you recently redeemed frequent flyer miles to treat the family to a fun summer vacation or to take your spouse on a romantic getaway, you might assume that there are no tax implications involved. And you’re probably right — but there is a chance your miles could be taxable.

Usually tax free

As a general rule, miles awarded by airlines for flying with them are considered nontaxable rebates, as are miles awarded for using a credit or debit card.

The IRS partially addressed the issue in Announcement 2002-18, where it said “Consistent with prior practice, the IRS will not assert that any taxpayer has understated his federal tax liability by reason of the receipt or personal use of frequent flyer miles or other in-kind promotional benefits attributable to the taxpayer’s business or official travel.”

Exceptions

There are, however, some types of mile awards the IRS might view as taxable. Examples include miles awarded as a prize in a sweepstakes and miles awarded as a promotion.

For instance, in Shankar v. Commissioner, the U.S. Tax Court sided with the IRS, finding that airline miles awarded in conjunction with opening a bank account were indeed taxable. Part of the evidence of taxability was the fact that the bank had issued Forms 1099 MISC to customers who’d redeemed the rewards points to purchase airline tickets.

The value of the miles for tax purposes generally is their estimated retail value.

If you’re concerned you’ve received mile awards that could be taxable, please contact us and we’ll help you determine your tax liability, if any.


Combining business and vacation travel: What can you deduct?

If you go on a business trip within the United States and tack on some vacation days, you can deduct some of your expenses. But exactly what can you write off?

Transportation expenses

Transportation costs to and from the location of your business activity are 100% deductible as long as the primary reason for the trip is business rather than pleasure. On the other hand, if vacation is the primary reason for your travel, then generally none of your transportation expenses are deductible.

What costs can be included? Travel to and from your departure airport, airfare, baggage fees, tips, cabs, and so forth. Costs for rail travel or driving your personal car are also eligible.

Business days vs. pleasure days

The number of days spent on business vs. pleasure is the key factor in determining if the primary reason for domestic travel is business. Your travel days count as business days, as do weekends and holidays if they fall between days devoted to business, and it would be impractical to return home.

Standby days (days when your physical presence is required) also count as business days, even if you aren’t called upon to work those days. Any other day principally devoted to business activities during normal business hours also counts as a business day, and so are days when you intended to work, but couldn’t due to reasons beyond your control (such as local transportation difficulties).

You should be able to claim business was the primary reason for a domestic trip if business days exceed personal days. Be sure to accumulate proof and keep it with your tax records. For example, if your trip is made to attend client meetings, log everything on your daily planner and copy the pages for your tax file. If you attend a convention or training seminar, keep the program and take notes to show you attended the sessions.

Once at the destination, your out-of-pocket expenses for business days are fully deductible. These expenses include lodging, hotel tips, meals (subject to the 50% disallowance rule), seminar and convention fees, and cab fare. Expenses for personal days are nondeductible.

We can help

Questions? Contact us if you want more information about business travel deductions.


3 strategies for tax-smart giving

Giving away assets during your life will help reduce the size of your taxable estate, which is beneficial if you have a large estate that could be subject to estate taxes. For 2016, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption is $5.45 million (twice that for married couples with proper estate planning strategies in place).

Even if your estate tax isn’t large enough for estate taxes to be a concern, there are income tax consequences to consider. Plus it’s possible the estate tax exemption could be reduced or your wealth could increase significantly in the future, and estate taxes could become a concern.

That’s why, no matter your current net worth, it’s important to choose gifts wisely. Consider both estate and income tax consequences and the economic aspects of any gifts you’d like to make. Here are three strategies for tax-smart giving:

1. To minimize estate tax, gift property with the greatest future appreciation potential. You’ll remove that future appreciation from your taxable estate.

2. To minimize your beneficiary’s income tax, gift property that hasn’t appreciated significantly while you’ve owned it. The beneficiary can sell the property at a minimal income tax cost.

3. To minimize your own income tax, don’t gift property that’s declined in value. Instead, consider selling the property so you can take the tax loss. You can then gift the sale proceeds.

For more ideas on tax-smart giving strategies, contact us.


Don’t roll the dice with your taxes if you gamble this year

For anyone who takes a spin at roulette, cries out “Bingo!” or engages in other wagering activities, it’s important to be familiar with the applicable tax rules. Otherwise, you could be putting yourself at risk for interest or penalties — or missing out on tax-saving opportunities.

Wins

You must report 100% of your wagering winnings as taxable income. The value of complimentary goodies (“comps”) provided by gambling establishments must also be included in taxable income because comps are considered gambling winnings. Winnings are subject to your regular federal income tax rate, which may be as high as 39.6%.

Amounts you win may be reported to you on IRS Form W-2G (“Certain Gambling Winnings”). In some cases, federal income tax may be withheld, too. Anytime a Form W-2G is issued, the IRS gets a copy. So if you’ve received such a form, keep in mind that the IRS will expect to see the winnings on your tax return.

Losses

You can write off wagering losses as an itemized deduction. However, allowable wagering losses are limited to your winnings for the year, and any excess losses cannot be carried over to future years. Also, out-of-pocket expenses for transportation, meals, lodging and so forth don’t count as gambling losses and, therefore, can’t be deducted.

Documentation

To claim a deduction for wagering losses, you must adequately document them, including:

1. The date and type of specific wager or wagering activity.

2. The name and address or location of the gambling establishment.

3. The names of other persons (if any) present with you at the gambling establishment. (Obviously, this is not possible when the gambling occurs at a public venue such as a casino, race track, or bingo parlor.)

4. The amount won or lost.

The IRS allows you to document income and losses from wagering on table games by recording the number of the table that you played and keeping statements showing casino credit that was issued to you. For lotteries, your wins and losses can be documented by winning statements and unredeemed tickets.

Please contact us if you have questions or want more information. If you qualify as a “professional” gambler, some of the rules are a little different.


To deduct business losses, you may have to prove “material participation”

You can only deduct losses from an S corporation, partnership or LLC if you “materially participate” in the business. If you don’t, your losses are generally “passive” and can only be used to offset income from other passive activities. Any excess passive loss is suspended and must be carried forward to future years.

Material participation is determined based on the time you spend in a business activity. For most business owners, the issue rarely arises — you probably spend more than 40 hours working on your enterprise. However, there are situations when the IRS questions participation.

Several tests

To materially participate, you must spend time on an activity on a regular, continuous and substantial basis.

You must also generally meet one of the tests for material participation. For example, a taxpayer must:

  1. Work 500 hours or more during the year in the activity,
  2. Participate in the activity for more than 100 hours during the year, with no one else working more than the taxpayer, or
  3. Materially participate in the activity for any five taxable years during the 10 tax years immediately preceding the taxable year. This can apply to a business owner in the early years of retirement.

 

There are other situations in which you can qualify for material participation. For example, you can qualify if the business is a personal service activity (such as medicine or law). There are also situations, such as rental businesses, where it is more difficult to claim material participation. In those trades or businesses, you must work more hours and meet additional tests.

 

Proving your involvement

In some cases, a taxpayer does materially participate, but can’t prove it to the IRS. That’s where good recordkeeping comes in. A good, contemporaneous diary or log can forestall an IRS challenge. Log visits to customers or vendors and trips to sites and banks, as well as time spent doing Internet research. Indicate the time spent. If you’re audited, it will generally occur several years from now. Without good records, you’ll have trouble remembering everything you did.

Passive activity losses are a complicated area of the tax code. Consult with your tax adviser for more information on your situation.


There’s still time for homeowners to save with green tax credits

The income tax credit for certain energy-efficient home improvements and equipment purchases was extended through 2016 by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act). So, you still have time to save both energy and taxes by making these eco-friendly investments.

What qualifies

The credit is for expenses related to your principal residence. It equals 10% of certain qualified improvement expenses plus 100% of certain other qualified equipment expenses, subject to a maximum overall credit of $500, which is reduced by any credits claimed in earlier years. (Because of this reduction, many people who previously claimed the credit will be ineligible for any further credits in 2016.)

Examples of improvement investments potentially eligible for the 10% of expense credit include:

  • Insulation systems that reduce heat loss or gain,
  • Metal and asphalt roofs with heat-reduction components that meet Energy Star requirements, and
  • Exterior windows (including skylights) and doors that meet Energy Star requirements. These expenditures are subject to a separate $200 credit cap.

 

Examples of improvement investments potentially eligible for the 10% of expense credit include:

 

  • Qualified central air conditioners; electric heat pumps; electric heat pump water heaters; water heaters that run on natural gas, propane, or oil; and biomass fuel stoves used for heating or hot water, which are subject to a separate $300 credit cap.
  • Qualified furnaces and hot water boilers that run on natural gas, propane or oil, which are subject to a separate $150 credit cap.
  • Qualified main air circulating fans used in natural gas, propane and oil furnaces, which are subject to a separate $50 credit cap.

 

Manufacturer certifications required

 

When claiming the credit, you must keep with your tax records a certification from the manufacturer that the product qualifies. The certification may be found on the product packaging or the manufacturer’s website. Additional rules and limits apply. For more information about these and other green tax breaks for individuals, contact us.


3 mutual fund tax hazards to watch out for

Investing in mutual funds is an easy way to diversify a portfolio, which is one reason why they’re commonly found in retirement plans such as IRAs and 401(k)s. But if you hold such funds in taxable accounts, or are considering such investments, beware of these three tax hazards:

  1. High turnover rates. Mutual funds with high turnover rates can create income that’s taxed at ordinary-income rates. Choosing funds that provide primarily long-term gains can save you more tax dollars because of the lower long-term rates.
  2. Earnings reinvestments. Earnings on mutual funds are typically reinvested, and unless you keep track of these additions and increase your basis accordingly, you may report more gain than required when you sell the fund. (Since 2012, brokerage firms have been required to track — and report to the IRS — your cost basis in mutual funds acquired during the tax year.)
  3. Capital gains distributions. Buying equity mutual fund shares late in the year can be costly tax-wise. Such funds often declare a large capital gains distribution at year end, which is a taxable event. If you own the shares on the distribution’s record date, you’ll be taxed on the full distribution amount even if it includes significant gains realized by the fund before you owned the shares. And you’ll pay tax on those gains in the current year — even if you reinvest the distribution.

 

If your mutual fund investments aren’t limited to your tax-advantaged retirement accounts, watch out for these hazards. And contact us — we can help you safely navigate them to keep your tax liability to a minimum.


Throw a company picnic for employees this summer and enjoy larger deductions

Many businesses host a picnic for employees in the summer. It’s a fun activity for your staff and you may be able to take a larger deduction for the cost than you would on other meal and entertainment expenses.

Deduction limits

Generally, businesses are limited to deducting 50% of allowable meal and entertainment expenses. But certain expenses are 100% deductible, including expenses:

  • For recreational or social activities for employees, such as summer picnics and holiday parties,
  • For food and beverages furnished at the workplace primarily for employees, and
  • That are excludable from employees’ income as de minimis fringe benefits.

 

There is one caveat for a 100% deduction: The entire staff must be invited. Otherwise, expenses are deductible under the regular business entertainment rules.

 

Recordkeeping requirements

Whether you deduct 50% or 100% of allowable expenses, there are a number of requirements, including certain records you must keep to prove your expenses.

If your company has substantial meal and entertainment expenses, you can reduce your tax bill by separately accounting for and documenting expenses that are 100% deductible. If doing so would create an administrative burden, you may be able to use statistical sampling methods to estimate the portion of meal and entertainment expenses that are fully deductible.

For more information about deducting business meals and entertainment, including how to take advantage of the 100% deduction, please contact us.


Finding the right tax-advantaged account to fund your health care expenses

With health care costs continuing to climb, tax-friendly ways to pay for these expenses are more attractive than ever. Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) and Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRAs) all provide opportunities for tax-advantaged funding of health care expenses. But what’s the difference between these three accounts? Here’s an overview:

HSA. If you’re covered by a qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP), you can contribute pretax income to an employer-sponsored HSA — or make deductible contributions to an HSA you set up yourself — up to $3,350 for self-only coverage and $6,750 for family coverage for 2016. Plus, if you’re age 55 or older, you may contribute an additional $1,000.

You own the account, which can bear interest or be invested, growing tax-deferred similar to an IRA. Withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free, and you can carry over a balance from year to year.

FSA. Regardless of whether you have an HDHP, you can redirect pretax income to an employer-sponsored FSA up to an employer-determined limit — not to exceed $2,550 in 2016. The plan pays or reimburses you for qualified medical expenses.

What you don’t use by the plan year’s end, you generally lose — though your plan might allow you to roll over up to $500 to the next year. Or it might give you a 2 1/2-month grace period to incur expenses to use up the previous year’s contribution. If you have an HSA, your FSA is limited to funding certain “permitted” expenses.

HRA. An HRA is an employer-sponsored account that reimburses you for medical expenses. Unlike an HSA, no HDHP is required. Unlike an FSA, any unused portion typically can be carried forward to the next year. And there’s no government-set limit on HRA contributions. But only your employer can contribute to an HRA; employees aren’t allowed to contribute.

Questions? We’d be happy to answer them — or discuss other ways to save taxes in relation to your health care expenses.


Awards of RSUs can provide tax deferral opportunity

Executives and other key employees are often compensated with more than just salary, fringe benefits and bonuses: They may also be awarded stock-based compensation, such as restricted stock or stock options. Another form that’s becoming more common is restricted stock units (RSUs). If RSUs are part of your compensation package, be sure you understand the tax consequences — and a valuable tax deferral opportunity.

RSUs vs. restricted stock

RSUs are contractual rights to receive stock (or its cash value) after the award has vested. Unlike restricted stock, RSUs aren’t eligible for the Section 83(b) election that can allow ordinary income to be converted into capital gains.

But RSUs do offer a limited ability to defer income taxes: Unlike restricted stock, which becomes taxable immediately upon vesting, RSUs aren’t taxable until the employee actually receives the stock.

Tax deferral

Rather than having the stock delivered immediately upon vesting, you may be able to arrange with your employer to delay delivery. This will defer income tax and may allow you to reduce or avoid exposure to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax (because the RSUs are treated as FICA income).

However, any income deferral must satisfy the strict requirements of Internal Revenue Code Section 409A.

Complex rules

If RSUs — or other types of stock-based awards — are part of your compensation package, please contact us. The rules are complex, and careful tax planning is critical.


Stock market volatility can cut tax on a Roth IRA conversion

This year’s stock market volatility can be unnerving, but if you have a traditional IRA, this volatility may provide a valuable opportunity: It can allow you to convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA at a lower tax cost.

Traditional IRAs

Contributions to a traditional IRA may be deductible, depending on your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) and whether you participate in a qualified retirement plan, such as a 401(k). Funds in the account can grow tax-deferred.

On the downside, you generally must pay income tax on withdrawals, and, with only a few exceptions, you’ll face a penalty if you withdraw funds before age 59½ — and an even larger penalty if you don’t take your required minimum distributions (RMDs) after age 70½.

Roth IRAs

Roth IRA contributions, on the other hand, are never deductible. But withdrawals — including earnings — are tax-free as long as you’re age 59½ or older and the account has been open at least five years. In addition, you’re allowed to withdraw contributions at any time tax- and penalty-free.

There are also estate planning advantages to a Roth IRA. No RMD rules apply, so you can leave funds growing tax-free for as long as you wish. Then distributions to whoever inherits your Roth IRA will be income-tax-free as well. The ability to contribute to a Roth IRA, however, is subject to limits based on your MAGI. Fortunately, anyone is eligible to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth. The catch? You’ll have to pay income tax on the amount you convert.

Saving tax

This is where the “benefit” of stock market volatility comes in. If your traditional IRA has lost value, converting to a Roth now rather than later will minimize your tax hit. Plus, you’ll avoid tax on future appreciation when the market stabilizes.

Of course, there are more ins and outs of IRAs that need to be considered before executing a Roth IRA conversion. If your interest is piqued, discuss with us whether a conversion is right for you.


Putting your home on the market? Understand the tax consequences of a sale

As the school year draws to a close and the days lengthen, you may be one of the many homeowners who are getting ready to put their home on the market. After all, in many locales, summer is the best time of year to sell a home. But it’s important to think not only about the potential profit (or loss) from a sale, but also about the tax consequences.

Gains

If you’re selling your principal residence, you can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers) of gain — as long as you meet certain tests. Gain that qualifies for exclusion also is excluded from the 3.8% net investment income tax. To support an accurate tax basis, be sure to maintain thorough records, including information on your original cost and subsequent improvements, reduced by any casualty losses and depreciation claimed based on business use. Keep in mind that gain that’s allocable to a period of “nonqualified” use generally isn’t excludable.

Losses

A loss on the sale of your principal residence generally isn’t deductible. But if part of your home is rented out or used exclusively for your business, the loss attributable to that portion may be deductible.

Second homes

If you’re selling a second home, be aware that it won’t be eligible for the gain exclusion. But if it qualifies as a rental property, it can be considered a business asset, and you may be able to defer tax on any gains through an installment sale or a Section 1031 exchange. Or you may be able to deduct a loss.

Learn more

If you’re considering putting your home on the market, please contact us to learn more about the potential tax consequences of a sale.


QSB stock offers 2 valuable tax benefits

By investing in qualified small business (QSB) stock, you can diversify your portfolio and enjoy two valuable tax benefits:

1. Tax-free gain rollovers. If within 60 days of selling QSB stock you buy other QSB stock with the proceeds, you can defer the tax on your gain until you dispose of the new stock. The rolled-over gain reduces your basis in the new stock. For determining long-term capital gains treatment, the new stock’s holding period includes the holding period of the stock you sold.

2. Exclusion of gain. Generally, taxpayers selling QSB stock are allowed to exclude up to 50% of their gain if they’ve held the stock for more than five years. But, depending on the acquisition date, the exclusion may be greater: The exclusion is 75% for stock acquired after Feb. 17, 2009, and before Sept. 28, 2010, and 100% for stock acquired on or after Sept. 28, 2010. The acquisition deadline for the 100% gain exclusion had been Dec. 31, 2014, but Congress has made this exclusion permanent.

The taxable portion of any QSB gain will be subject to the lesser of your ordinary-income rate or 28%, rather than the normal long-term gains rate. Thus, if the 28% rate and the 50% exclusion apply, the effective rate on the QSB gain will be 14% (28% × 50%).

Keep in mind that these tax benefits are subject to additional requirements and limits. For example, to be a QSB, a business must be engaged in an active trade or business and must not have assets that exceed $50 million.

Consult us for more details before buying or selling QSB stock. And be sure to consider the nontax factors as well, such as your risk tolerance, time horizon and overall investment goals.


Why it’s time to start tax planning for 2016

Now that the April 18 income tax filing deadline has passed, it may be tempting to set aside any thought of taxes until year end is approaching. But don’t succumb. For maximum tax savings, now is the time to start tax planning for 2016.

More opportunities

A tremendous number of variables affect your overall tax liability for the year. Starting to look at these variables early in the year can give you more opportunities to reduce your 2016 tax bill.

For example, the timing of income and deductible expenses can affect both the rate you pay and when you pay. By regularly reviewing your year-to-date income, expenses and potential tax, you may be able to time income and expenses in a way that reduces, or at least defers, your tax liability.

In other words, tax planning shouldn’t be just a year-end activity.

More certainty

In recent years, planning early has been a challenge because there were a lot of expired tax breaks where it was uncertain whether they’d be extended for the year. But the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act) extended a wide variety of tax breaks through 2016, or, in some cases, later. It also made many breaks permanent.

For example, the PATH Act made permanent the deduction for state and local sales taxes in lieu of state and local income taxes and tax-free IRA distributions to charities for account holders age 70½ or older. So you don’t have to wait and see whether these breaks will be available for the year like you did in 2014 and 2015.

Getting started

To get started on your 2016 tax planning, contact us. We can discuss what strategies you should be implementing now and throughout the year to minimize your tax liability.


Tips for deducting losses from a disaster, fire or theft

If you suffer damage to your home or personal property, you may be able to deduct these “casualty” losses on your federal income tax return. A casualty is a sudden, unexpected or unusual event, such as a natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake, etc.), fire, accident, theft or vandalism. A casualty loss doesn’t include losses from normal wear and tear or progressive deterioration from age or termite damage.

Here are some things you should know about deducting casualty losses:

When to deduct. Generally, you must deduct a casualty loss in the year it occurred. However, if you have a loss from a federally declared disaster area, you may have the option to deduct the loss on an amended return for the immediately preceding tax year.

Amount of loss. Your loss is generally the lesser of 1) your adjusted basis in the property before the casualty (typically, the amount you paid for it), or 2) the decrease in fair market value of the property as a result of the casualty. This amount must be reduced by any insurance or other reimbursement you received or expect to receive. (If the property was insured, you must have filed a timely claim for reimbursement of your loss.)

$100 rule. After you’ve figured your casualty loss on personal-use property, you must reduce that loss by $100. This reduction applies to each casualty loss event during the year. It doesn’t matter how many pieces of property are involved in an event.

10% rule. You must reduce the total of all your casualty or theft losses on personal-use property for the year by 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). In other words, you can deduct these losses only to the extent they exceed 10% of your AGI.

Have questions about deducting casualty losses? Contact us!


3 income-tax-smart gifting strategies

If your 2015 tax liability is higher than you’d hoped and you’re ready to transfer some assets to your loved ones, now may be the time to get started. Giving away assets will, of course, help reduce the size of your taxable estate. But with income-tax-smart gifting strategies, it also can reduce your income tax liability — and perhaps your family’s tax liability overall:

1. Gift appreciated or dividend-producing assets to loved ones eligible for the 0% rate. The 0% rate applies to both long-term gain and qualified dividends that would be taxed at 10% or 15% based on the taxpayer’s ordinary-income rate.

2. Gift appreciated or dividend-producing assets to loved ones in lower tax brackets. Even if no one in your family is eligible for the 0% rate, transferring assets to loved ones in a lower income tax bracket than you can still save taxes overall for your family. This strategy can be even more powerful if you’d be subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax on dividends from the assets or if you sold the assets.

3. Don’t gift assets that have declined in value. Instead, sell the assets so you can take the tax loss. Then gift the sale proceeds.

 

If you’re considering making gifts to someone who’ll be under age 24 on December 31, make sure he or she won’t be subject to the “kiddie tax.” And if your estate is large enough that gift and estate taxes are a concern, you need to think about those taxes, too. To learn more about tax-smart gifting, contact us.


Make a 2015 contribution to an IRA before time runs out

Tax-advantaged retirement plans allow your money to grow tax-deferred — or, in the case of Roth accounts, tax-free. But annual contributions are limited by tax law, and any unused limit can’t be carried forward to make larger contributions in future years. So it’s a good idea to use up as much of your annual limits as possible. Have you maxed out your 2015 limits?

April 18 deadline

While it’s too late to add to your 2015 401(k) contributions, there’s still time to make 2015 IRA contributions. The deadline is April 18, 2016. The limit for total contributions to all IRAs generally is $5,500 ($6,500 if you were age 50 or older on December 31, 2015).

A traditional IRA contribution also might provide some savings on your 2015 tax bill. If you and your spouse don’t participate in an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k) — or you do but your income doesn’t exceed certain limits — your traditional IRA contribution is fully deductible on your 2015 tax return.

Evaluate your options

If you don’t qualify for a deductible traditional IRA contribution, see if you qualify to make a Roth IRA contribution. If you exceed the applicable income-based limits, a nondeductible traditional IRA contribution may even make sense. Neither of these options will reduce your 2015 tax liability, but they still provide valuable opportunities for tax-deferred or tax-free growth.

We can help you determine which type of contributions you’re eligible for and what makes sense for you.


2 benefits-related tax credits just for small businesses

Tax credits reduce tax liability dollar-for-dollar, making them particularly valuable. Two valuable credits are especially for small businesses that offer certain employee benefits. Can you claim one — or both — of them on your 2015 return?

Retirement plan credit

Small employers (generally those with 100 or fewer employees) that create a retirement plan may be eligible for a $500 credit per year for three years. The credit is limited to 50% of qualified startup costs.

Of course, you generally can deduct contributions you make to your employees’ accounts under the plan. And your employees enjoy the benefit of tax-advantaged retirement saving.

Small-business health care credit

The maximum credit is 50% of group health coverage premiums paid by the employer, provided it contributes at least 50% of the total premium or of a benchmark premium. For 2015, the full credit is available for employers with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) and average annual wages of $25,000 or less per employee. Partial credits are available on a sliding scale to businesses with fewer than 25 FTEs and average annual wages of less than $52,000.

To qualify for the credit, online enrollment in the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) generally is required. In addition, the credit can be taken for only two years, and they must be consecutive. (Credits taken before 2014 don’t count, however.)

Take all the credits you’re entitled to

If you’re not sure whether you’re eligible for these credits, we can help. We can also advise you on what other tax credits you might be eligible for when you file your 2015 return.


How to max out education-related tax breaks

If there was a college student in your family last year, you may be eligible for some valuable tax breaks on your 2015 return. To max out your education-related breaks, you need to see which ones you’re eligible for and then claim the one(s) that will provide the greatest benefit. In most cases you can take only one break per student, and, for some breaks, only one per tax return.

Credits vs. deductions

Tax credits can be especially valuable because they reduce taxes dollar-for-dollar; deductions reduce only the amount of income that’s taxed. A couple of credits are available for higher education expenses:

  1. The American Opportunity credit — up to $2,500 per year per student for qualifying expenses for the first four years of postsecondary education.
  2. The Lifetime Learning credit — up to $2,000 per tax return for postsecondary education expenses, even beyond the first four years.

 

But income-based phaseouts apply to these credits.

 

If you’re eligible for the American Opportunity credit, it will likely provide the most tax savings. If you’re not, the Lifetime Learning credit isn’t necessarily the best alternative. Despite the dollar-for-dollar tax savings credits offer, you might be better off deducting up to $4,000 of qualified higher education tuition and fees. Because it’s an above-the-line deduction, it reduces your adjusted gross income, which could provide additional tax benefits. But income-based limits also apply to the tuition and fees deduction.

How much can your family save?

Keep in mind that, if you don’t qualify for breaks for your child’s higher education expenses because your income is too high, your child might. Many additional rules and limits apply to the credits and deduction, however. To learn which breaks your family might be eligible for on your 2015 tax returns — and which will provide the greatest tax savings — please contact us.


Deduct home office expenses — if you’re eligible

Today it’s becoming more common to work from home. But just because you have a home office space doesn’t mean you can deduct expenses associated with it.

Eligibility requirements

If you’re an employee, your use of your home office must be for your employer’s convenience, not just your own. If you’re self-employed, generally your home office must be your principal place of business, though there are exceptions.

Whether you’re an employee or self-employed, the space must be used regularly (not just occasionally) and exclusively for business purposes. If, for example, your home office is also a guest bedroom or your children do their homework there, you can’t deduct the expenses associated with that space.

A valuable break

If you are eligible, the home office deduction can be a valuable tax break. You may be able to deduct a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, utilities and certain other expenses, as well as the depreciation allocable to the office space.

Or you can take the simpler “safe harbor” deduction in lieu of calculating, allocating and substantiating actual expenses. The safe harbor deduction is capped at $1,500 per year, based on $5 per square foot up to a maximum of 300 square feet.

More considerations

For employees, home office expenses are a miscellaneous itemized deduction. This means you’ll enjoy a tax benefit only if these expenses plus your other miscellaneous itemized expenses exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI).

If, however, you’re self-employed, you can deduct eligible home office expenses against your self-employment income.

Finally, be aware that we’ve covered only a few of the rules and limits here. If you think you may be eligible for the home office deduction, contact us for more information.


Extension means businesses can take bonus depreciation on their 2015 returns - but should they?

Bonus depreciation allows businesses to recover the costs of depreciable property more quickly by claiming additional first-year depreciation for qualified assets. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act) extended 50% bonus depreciation through 2017.

The break had expired December 31, 2014, for most assets. So the PATH Act may give you a tax-saving opportunity for 2015 you wouldn’t otherwise have had. Many businesses will benefit from claiming this break on their 2015 returns. But you might save more tax in the long run if you forgo it.

What assets are eligible.

For 2015, new tangible property with a recovery period of 20 years or less (such as office furniture and equipment) qualifies for bonus depreciation. So does off-the-shelf computer software, water utility property and qualified leasehold-improvement property.

Acquiring the property in 2015 isn’t enough, however. You must also have placed the property in service in 2015.

Should you or shouldnt you?

If you’re eligible for bonus depreciation and you expect to be in the same or a lower tax bracket in future years, taking bonus depreciation (to the extent you’ve exhausted any Section 179 expensing available to you) is likely a good tax strategy. It will defer tax, which generally is beneficial.

But if your business is growing and you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in the near future, you may be better off forgoing bonus depreciation. Why? Even though you’ll pay more tax for 2015, you’ll preserve larger depreciation deductions on the property for future years, when they may be more powerful — deductions save more tax when you’re in a higher bracket.

We can help.

If you’re unsure whether you should take bonus depreciation on your 2015 return — or you have questions about other depreciation-related breaks, such as Sec. 179 expensing — contact us.


File early to avoid tax identity theft

If you’re like many Americans, you may not start thinking about filing your tax return until the April 15 deadline (this year, April 18) is just a few weeks — or perhaps even just a few days — away. But there’s another date you should keep in mind: January 19. That’s the date the IRS began accepting 2015 returns, and filing as close to that date as possible could protect you from tax identity theft.

How filing early helps

In this increasingly common scam, thieves use victims’ personal information to file fraudulent tax returns electronically and claim bogus refunds. When the real taxpayers file, they’re notified that they’re attempting to file duplicate returns.

Tax identity theft can cause major headaches to straighten out and significantly delay legitimate refunds. But if you file first, it will be the thief who’s filing the duplicate return, not you.

Another key date

Of course you need to have your W-2s and 1099s to file. So another key date to be aware of is February 1 — the deadline for employers to issue 2015 W-2s to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue 1099s to recipients of any 2015 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments.

An added bonus

Let us know if you have questions about tax identity theft or would like help filing your 2015 return early. An added bonus of filing early, if you’ll be getting a refund, is enjoying that refund sooner.

 


Why investing in small-business stock may make more tax sense than ever

By purchasing stock in certain small businesses, you can not only diversify your portfolio but also enjoy preferential tax treatment. And under a provision of the tax extenders act signed into law this past December (the PATH Act), such stock is now even more attractive from a tax perspective.

 

100% exclusion from gain

The PATH Act makes permanent the exclusion of 100% of the gain on the sale or exchange of qualified small business (QSB) stock acquired and held for more than five years. The 100% exclusion is available for QSB stock acquired after September 27, 2010. (Smaller exclusions are available for QSB stock acquired earlier.)

The act also permanently extends the rule that eliminates QSB stock gain as a preference item for alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes.

What stock qualifies?

A QSB is generally a domestic C corporation that has gross assets of no more than $50 million at any time (including when the stock is issued) and uses at least 80% of its assets in an active trade or business.

Many factors to consider

Of course tax consequences are only one of the many factors that should be considered before making an investment. Also, keep in mind that the tax benefits discussed here are subject to additional requirements and limits. Consult us for more details.

 


Could you save more by deducting state and local sales taxes?

For the last several years, taxpayers have been allowed to take an itemized deduction for state and local sales taxes in lieu of state and local income taxes. This break can be valuable to those residing in states with no or low income taxes or who purchase major items, such as a car or boat. But it had expired December 31, 2014. Now the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act) has made the break permanent.

So see if you can save more by deducting sales tax on your 2015 return. Don’t worry — you don’t have to have receipts documenting all of the sales tax you actually paid during the year to take full advantage of the deduction. Your deduction can be determined by using an IRS sales tax calculator that will base the deduction on your income and the sales tax rates in your locale plus the tax you actually paid on certain major purchases.

Questions about this or other PATH Act breaks that might help you save taxes on your 2015 tax return? Contact us — we can help you identify which tax breaks will provide you the maximum benefit.

 


2 extended credits can save businesses taxes on their 2015 returns

The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act) extended a wide variety of tax breaks, in some cases making them permanent. Extended breaks include many tax credits — which are particularly valuable because they reduce taxes dollar-for-dollar (compared to deductions, for example, which reduce only the amount of income that’s taxed).

Here are two extended credits that can save businesses taxes on their 2015 returns:

  1. The research credit. This credit (also commonly referred to as the “research and development” or “research and experimentation” credit) has been made permanent. It rewards businesses that increase their investments in research. The credit, generally equal to a portion of qualified research expenses, is complicated to calculate, but the tax savings can be substantial.
  2. The Work Opportunity credit. This credit has been extended through 2019. It’s available for hiring from certain disadvantaged groups, such as food stamp recipients, ex-felons and veterans who’ve been unemployed for four weeks or more. The maximum credit ranges from $2,400 for most groups to $9,600 for disabled veterans who’ve been unemployed for six months or more.

 

Want to know if you might qualify for either of these credits? Or what other breaks extended by the PATH Act could save taxes on your 2015 return? Contact us!

 


No changes to retirement plan contributions for 2016

Retirement plan contribution limits are indexed for inflation, but with inflation remaining low, the limits remain unchanged for 2016:

Type of limit

2016 limit

Elective deferrals to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans

$18,000

Contributions to defined contribution plans

$53,000

Contributions to SIMPLEs

$12,500

Contributions to IRAs

$5,500

Catch-up contributions to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans

$6,000

Catch-up contributions to SIMPLEs

$3,000

Catch-up contributions to IRAs

$1,000

 

Nevertheless, if you’re not already maxing out your contributions, you still have an opportunity to save more in 2016. And if you turn age 50 in 2016, you can begin to take advantage of catch-up contributions.

 

However, keep in mind that additional factors may affect how much you’re allowed to contribute (or how much your employer can contribute on your behalf). For example, income-based limits may reduce or eliminate your ability to make Roth IRA contributions or to make deductible traditional IRA contributions. If you have questions about how much you can contribute to tax-advantaged retirement plans in 2016, check with us.

 


Congress passes “extenders”
legislation reviving expired tax breaks for 2015

Many valuable tax breaks expired December 31, 2014. For them to be available for 2015, Congress had to pass legislation extending them — which it now has done, with the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act), signed into law by the President on December 18. The PATH Act not only revives expired breaks for 2015 but also makes many breaks permanent, generally extends the rest through either 2016 or 2019, and enhances some breaks.

Here is a sampling of extended breaks that may benefit you or your business:

  • The deduction for state and local sales taxes in lieu of state and local income taxes (extended permanently),
  • Tax-free IRA distributions to charities (extended permanently),
  • Bonus depreciation (extended through 2019, but with reduced benefits for 2018 and 2019),
  • Enhanced Section 179 expensing (extended permanently and further enhanced beginning in 2016),
  • Accelerated depreciation for qualified leasehold-improvement, restaurant and retail improvement property (extended permanently),
  • The research tax credit (extended permanently and enhanced beginning in 2016),
  • The Work Opportunity credit (extended through 2019 and enhanced beginning in 2016), and
  • Various energy-related tax incentives (extended through 2016).

 

Please contact us for more information on these and other breaks under the PATH Act. Keep in mind that, for you to take maximum advantage of certain extended breaks on your 2015 tax return, quick action may be required.

 


7 last-minute tax-saving tips

The year is quickly drawing to a close, but there’s still time to take steps to reduce your 2015 tax liability — you just must act by December 31:

  • Pay your 2015 property tax bill that’s due in early 2016.
  • Make your January 1 mortgage payment.
  • Incur deductible medical expenses (if your deductible medical expenses for the year already exceed the applicable floor).
  • Pay tuition for academic periods that will begin in January, February or March of 2016 (if it will make you eligible for a tax credit).
  • Donate to your favorite charities.
  • Sell investments at a loss to offset capital gains you’ve recognized this year.
  • Ask your employer if your bonus can be deferred until January.

 

Keep in mind, however, that in certain situations these strategies might not make sense. For example, if you’ll be subject to the alternative minimum tax this year or be in a higher tax bracket next year, taking some of these steps could have undesirable results.

 

If you’re unsure whether these steps are right for you, consult us before taking action.


Avoid a 50% penalty: Take retirement plan RMDs by December 31

After you reach age 70½, you must take annual required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your IRAs (except Roth IRAs) and, generally, from your defined contribution plans (such as 401(k) plans). You also could be required to take RMDs if you inherited a retirement plan (including Roth IRAs).

If you don’t comply — which usually requires taking the RMD by December 31 — you can owe a penalty equal to 50% of the amount you should have withdrawn but didn’t.

So, should you withdraw more than the RMD? Taking only RMDs generally is advantageous because of tax-deferred compounding. But a larger distribution in a year your tax bracket is low may save tax.

Be sure, however, to consider the lost future tax-deferred growth and, if applicable, whether the distribution could: 1) cause Social Security payments to become taxable, 2) increase income-based Medicare premiums and prescription drug charges, or 3) affect other tax breaks with income-based limits.

Also keep in mind that, while retirement plan distributions aren’t subject to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax or 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), they are included in your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). That means they could trigger or increase the NIIT, because the thresholds for that tax are based on MAGI.

For more information on RMDs or tax-savings strategies for your retirement plan distributions, please contact us.


Don’t miss your opportunity to make 2015 annual exclusion gifts

Recently, the IRS released the 2016 annually adjusted amount for the unified gift and estate tax exemption and the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption: $5.45 million (up from $5.43 million in 2015). But even with the rising exemptions, annual exclusion gifts offer a valuable tax-saving opportunity.

The 2015 gift tax annual exclusion allows you to give up to $14,000 per recipient tax-free — without using up any of your gift and estate or GST tax exemption. (The exclusion remains the same for 2016.)

The gifted assets are removed from your taxable estate, which can be especially advantageous if you expect them to appreciate. That’s because the future appreciation can avoid gift and estate taxes.

But you need to use your 2015 exclusion by December 31. The exclusion doesn’t carry over from year to year. For example, if you and your spouse don’t make annual exclusion gifts to your grandson this year, you can’t add $28,000 to your 2016 exclusions to make a $56,000 tax-free gift to him next year.

Questions about making annual exclusion gifts or other ways to transfer assets to the next generation while saving taxes? Contact us!

PTO contribution arrangements can help prevent the year-end vacation-time scramble

From the Thanksgiving kick-off of the holiday season through December 31, many businesses find themselves short-staffed as employees take time off to spend with family and friends. But if you limit how many vacation days employees can roll over to the new year, you might find your workplace to be nearly a ghost town as employees scramble to use their time off rather than lose it.

A paid time off (PTO) contribution arrangement may be the solution. It allows employees with unused vacation hours to elect to convert them to retirement plan contributions. If the plan has a 401(k) feature, it can treat these amounts as a pretax benefit, similar to normal employee deferrals. Alternatively, the plan can treat the amounts as employer profit sharing, converting the excess PTO amounts to employer contributions.

A PTO contribution arrangement can be a better option than increasing the number of days employees can roll over. Why? Larger rollover limits can result in employees building up large balances that create a significant liability on your books.

To offer a PTO contribution arrangement, you simply need to amend your plan. However, you must still follow the plan document’s eligibility, vesting, rollover, distribution and loan terms, and additional rules apply.

To learn more about PTO contribution arrangements, including their tax implications, please contact us.


Reduce taxes on your investments with these year-end strategies

While tax consequences should never drive investment decisions, it’s critical that they be considered — especially by higher-income taxpayers, who may be facing the 39.6% short-term capital gains rate, the 20% long-term capital gains rate and the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT).

Holding on to an investment until you’ve owned it more than one year so the gains qualify for long-term treatment may help substantially cut tax on any gain. Here are some other tax-saving strategies:

Use unrealized losses to absorb gains.

Avoid wash sales.

See if a loved one qualifies for the 0% rate (or the 15% rate if your rate is 20%).

Many of the strategies that can help you save or defer income tax on your investments can also help you avoid or defer NIIT liability. And because the threshold for the NIIT is based on modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), strategies that reduce your MAGI — such as making retirement plan contributions — can also help you avoid or reduce NIIT liability.

These are only a few of the year-end strategies that may help you reduce taxes on your investments. For more ideas, contact us.


Protect your deduction: Verify that a charity is eligible
to receive tax-deductible contributions before you donate

Donations to qualified charities are generally fully deductible, and they may be the easiest deductible expense to time to your tax advantage. After all, you control exactly when and how much you give. But before you donate, it’s critical to make sure the charity you’re considering is indeed a qualified charity — that it’s eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

The IRS’s online search tool, Exempt Organizations (EO) Select Check, can help you more easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can access EO Select Check at http://apps.irs.gov/app/eos. Information about organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions is updated monthly.

Also, with the 2016 presidential election heating up, it’s important to remember that political donations aren’t tax-deductible.

Of course, additional rules affect your charitable deductions, so please contact us if you have questions about whether a donation you’re planning will be fully deductible. We can also provide ideas for maximizing the tax benefits of your charitable giving.


The 529 savings plan: A tax-smart way to fund college expenses

If you’re saving for college, consider a Section 529 plan. Although contributions aren’t deductible for federal purposes, plan assets can grow tax-deferred. (Some states do offer tax incentives for contributing.)

Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, equipment, supplies and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and typically for state purposes as well, thus making the tax deferral a permanent savings.

529 plans offer other benefits as well:

  • They usually offer high contribution limits, and there are no income limits for contributing.
  • There’s generally no beneficiary age limit for contributions or distributions.
  • You can control the account, even after the child is of legal age.
  • You can make tax-free rollovers to another qualifying family member.

 

Finally, 529 plans provide estate planning benefits: A special break for 529 plans allows you to front-load five years’ worth of annual gift tax exclusions and make up to a $70,000 contribution (or $140,000 if you split the gift with your spouse).

 

The biggest downside may be that your investment options — and when you can change them — are limited. Please contact us for more information on 529 plans and other tax-smart strategies for funding education expenses.


Save tax — or at least defer it — by carefully
timing business income and expenses

The first step to smart timing is to project your business’s income and expenses for 2015 and 2016. With this information in hand, you can determine the best year-end timing strategy for your business.

If you expect to be in the same or lower tax bracket in 2016, consider:

Deferring income to 2016. If your business uses the cash method of accounting, you can defer billing for your products or services. Or, if you use the accrual method, you can delay shipping products or delivering services.

Accelerating deductible expenses into 2015. If you’re a cash-basis taxpayer, you may make a state estimated tax payment before December 31, so you can deduct it this year rather than next. Both cash- and accrual-basis taxpayers can charge expenses on a credit card and deduct them in the year charged, regardless of when the credit card bill is paid.

If you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in 2016, accelerating income and deferring deductible expenses may save you more tax over the two-year period (though it will increase your 2015 tax liability).


2 tax consequences to consider if you’re refinancing a home

Now may be a great time to refinance, because mortgage rates are still low but expected to increase. Before deciding to refinance, however, here are a couple of tax consequences to consider:

1. Cash-out refinancing. If you borrow more than you need to cover your outstanding mortgage balance, the tax treatment of the cash-out portion depends on how you use the excess cash. If you use it for home improvements, it’s considered acquisition indebtedness, and the interest is deductible subject to a $1 million debt limit. If you use it for another purpose, such as buying a car or paying college tuition, it’s considered home equity debt, and deductible interest is subject to a $100,000 debt limit.

2. Prepaying interest. “Points” paid when refinancing generally are amortized and deducted ratably over the life of the loan, rather than being immediately deductible. If you’re already amortizing points from a previous refinancing and you refinance with a new lender, you can deduct the unamortized balance in the year you refinance. But if you refinance with the same lender, you must add the unamortized points from the old loan to any points you pay on the new loan and then deduct the total over the life of the new loan.

Is your head spinning? Don’t worry; we can help you understand exactly what the tax consequences of refinancing will be for you. Contact us today!


Your exec comp could be subject to the 0.9% additional Medicare tax or the 3.8% NIIT

The additional Medicare tax and net investment income tax (NIIT) apply when certain income exceeds the applicable threshold: $250,000 for married filing jointly, $125,000 for married filing separately, and $200,000 for other taxpayers.

The following types of executive compensation could be subject to the 0.9% additional Medicare tax if your earned income exceeds the applicable threshold:

  • Fair market value (FMV) of restricted stock once the stock is no longer subject to risk of forfeiture or it’s sold
  • FMV of restricted stock when it’s awarded if you make a Section 83(b) election
  • Bargain element of nonqualified stock options when exercised
  • Nonqualified deferred compensation once the services have been performed and there’s no longer a substantial risk of forfeiture

 

And the following types of gains from exec comp will be included in net investment income and could be subject to the 3.8% NIIT if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds the applicable threshold:

 

  • Gain on the sale of restricted stock if you’ve made the Sec. 83(b) election
  • Gain on the sale of stock from an incentive stock option exercise if you meet the holding requirements

 

Concerned about how your exec comp will be taxed? Please contact us. We can help you assess the potential tax impact and implement strategies to reduce it.

 

 


Should you “bunch” medical expenses into 2015?

Medical expenses that aren’t reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account (such as a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account) may be deductible — but generally only to the extent that they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income.

Taxpayers age 65 and older can enjoy a 7.5% floor through 2016. The floor for alternative minimum tax purposes, however, is 10% for all taxpayers.

By “bunching” nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into alternating years, you may increase your ability to exceed the applicable floor. Controllable expenses might include prescription drugs, eyeglasses and contact lenses, hearing aids, dental work, and elective surgery.

If it’s looking like you’re close to exceeding the floor in 2015, consider accelerating controllable expenses into this year. But if you’re far from exceeding it, to the extent possible (without harming your or your family’s health), you might want to put off medical expenses until next year, in case you have enough expenses in 2016 to exceed the floor.

For more information on how to bunch deductions or exactly what expenses are deductible, please contact us.

 


Why you should contribute more to your 401(k) in 2015

Contributing to a traditional employer-sponsored defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan, offers many benefits:

  • Contributions are pretax, reducing your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), which can also help you reduce or avoid exposure to the 3.8% net investment income tax.
  • Plan assets can grow tax-deferred — meaning you pay no income tax until you take distributions.
  • Your employer may match some or all of your contributions pretax.

 

For 2015, you can contribute up to $18,000. If your current contribution rate will leave you short of the limit, consider increasing your contribution rate through the end of the year. Because of tax-deferred compounding, boosting contributions sooner rather than later can have a significant impact on the size of your nest egg at retirement.

 

If you’ll be age 50 or older by December 31, you can also make “catch-up” contributions (up to $6,000 for 2015). So if you didn’t contribute much when you were younger, this may allow you to partially make up for lost time. Even if you did make significant contributions before age 50, catch-up contributions can still be beneficial, allowing you to further leverage the power of tax-deferred compounding.

Have questions about how much to contribute? Contact us. We’d be pleased to discuss the tax and retirement-saving considerations with you.

 


Should you “bunch” medical expenses into 2015?

Medical expenses that aren’t reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account (such as a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account) may be deductible — but generally only to the extent that they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income.

Taxpayers age 65 and older can enjoy a 7.5% floor through 2016. The floor for alternative minimum tax purposes, however, is 10% for all taxpayers.

By “bunching” nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into alternating years, you may increase your ability to exceed the applicable floor. Controllable expenses might include prescription drugs, eyeglasses and contact lenses, hearing aids, dental work, and elective surgery.

If it’s looking like you’re close to exceeding the floor in 2015, consider accelerating controllable expenses into this year. But if you’re far from exceeding it, to the extent possible (without harming your or your family’s health), you might want to put off medical expenses until next year, in case you have enough expenses in 2016 to exceed the floor.

For more information on how to bunch deductions or exactly what expenses are deductible, please contact us.

 


Selling rather than trading in business vehicles can save tax

Although a vehicle’s value typically drops fairly rapidly, the tax rules limit the amount of annual depreciation that can be claimed on most cars and light trucks. Thus, when it’s time to replace a vehicle used in business, it’s not unusual for its tax basis to be higher than its value.

If you trade a vehicle in on a new one, the undepreciated basis of the old vehicle simply tacks onto the basis of the new one (even though this extra basis generally doesn’t generate any additional current depreciation because of the annual depreciation limits). However, if you sell the old vehicle rather than trading it in, any excess of basis over the vehicle’s value can be claimed as a deductible loss to the extent of your business use of the vehicle.

For example, if you sell a vehicle with an adjusted basis of $20,000 for $12,000, you’ll get an immediate write-off of $8,000 ($20,000 – $12,000). If you trade in the vehicle rather than selling it, the $20,000 adjusted basis is added to the new vehicle’s depreciable basis and, thanks to the annual depreciation limits, it may be years before any tax deductions are realized.

For more ideas on how to maximize your vehicle-related deductions, contact us.

 


How to determine if you need to worry about estate taxes

Here’s a simplified way to project your estate tax exposure. Take the value of your estate, net of any debts. Also subtract any assets that will pass to charity on your death.

Then, if you’re married and your spouse is a U.S. citizen, subtract any assets you’ll pass to him or her. Those assets qualify for the marital deduction and avoid potential estate tax exposure until the surviving spouse dies. The net number represents your taxable estate.

You can transfer up to your available exemption amount at death free of federal estate taxes. So if your taxable estate is equal to or less than the estate tax exemption (for 2015, $5.43 million) reduced by any gift tax exemption you used during your life, no federal estate tax will be due when you die. But if your taxable estate exceeds this amount, it will be subject to estate tax. Many states, however, now impose estate tax at a lower threshold than the federal government does, so you’ll also need to consider the rules in your state.

If you’re not sure whether you’re at risk for the estate tax or if you’d like to learn about gift and estate planning strategies to reduce your potential liability, please contact us.

 


When will Congress pass “extenders”legislation to revive expired tax breaks for 2015?

With Congress returning from its August recess, this is the question on tax-savvy Americans’ minds. Many valuable tax breaks aren’t permanent, so Congress has to pass legislation extending them to keep them in effect. Unfortunately, Congress often waits until the last minute to do so.

For example, Congress didn’t pass 2014 extenders until December 2014, making the legislation retroactive to January 1, 2014 — but not extending the breaks to 2015. So we’re again in a waiting game to see what will happen with extenders legislation. Some believe Congress will act soon, while others think we’ll again be waiting until December.

Here are several expired breaks that may benefit you or your business if extended:

  • The deduction for state and local sales taxes in lieu of state and local income taxes
  • Tax-free IRA distributions to charities
  • 100% bonus depreciation
  • Enhanced Section 179 expensing
  • Accelerated depreciation for qualified leasehold improvement, restaurant and retail improvement property
  • The research tax credit
  • The Work Opportunity tax credit, and Various energy-related tax incentives.

 

Please check back with us for the latest information. Keep in mind that quick action after extenders legislation is passed may be required in order to take maximum advantage of the extended breaks.

 


All income investments aren’t alike when it comes to taxes

The tax treatment of investment income varies, and not just based on whether the income is in the form of dividends or interest. Qualified dividends are taxed at the favorable long-term capital gains tax rate (generally 15% or 20%) rather than at the applicable ordinary-income tax rate (which might be as high as 39.6%). Interest income generally is taxed at ordinary-income rates. So stocks that pay qualified dividends may be more attractive tax-wise than other income investments, such as CDs and taxable bonds.

But there are exceptions. For example, some dividends aren’t qualified and therefore are subject to ordinary-income rates, such as certain dividends from:

  • Real estate investment trusts (REITs),
  • Regulated investment companies (RICs),
  • Money market mutual funds, and
  • Money market mutual funds, and

 

Also, the tax treatment of bond income varies. For example:

 

  • Interest on U.S. government bonds is taxable on federal returns but exempt on state and local returns.
  • Interest on state and local government bonds is excludable on federal returns. If the bonds were issued in your home state, interest also might be excludable on your state return.
  • Corporate bond interest is fully taxable for federal and state purposes.

 

While tax treatment shouldn’t drive investment decisions, it’s one factor to consider — especially when it comes to income investments. For help factoring taxes into your investment strategy, contact us.

 


Exporters and others: Save taxes with an IC-DISC

If your business exports American-made goods or performs architectural or engineering services for foreign construction projects, an interest-charge domestic international sales corporation (IC-DISC) can help slash your tax bill.

An IC-DISC is a “paper” corporation you set up to receive commissions on export sales, up to the greater of 50% of net income or 4% of gross receipts from qualified exports. Your business deducts the commission payments, while distributions received from the IC-DISC are treated as qualified dividends, not capital gains.

Essentially, an IC-DISC allows you to convert ordinary income taxed at rates as high as 39.6% into dividends taxed at 15% or 20%. An IC-DISC also allows you to defer taxes on up to $10 million in commissions held by the IC-DISC by paying a modest interest charge to the IRS.

Think an IC-DISC might be right for you? Contact us for more information.


What you need to know before donating collectibles

If you’re a collector, donating from your collection instead of your bank account or investment portfolio can be tax-smart. When you donate appreciated property rather than selling it, you avoid the capital gains tax you would have incurred on a sale. And long-term gains on collectibles are subject to a higher maximum rate (28%) than long-term gains on most long-term property (15% or 20%, depending on your tax bracket) — so you can save even more taxes.

But choose the charity wisely. For you to receive a deduction equal to fair market value rather than your basis in the collectible, the item must be consistent with the charity’s purpose, such as an antique to a historical society.

Properly substantiating the donation is also critical, and this may include an appraisal. If you donate works of art with a collective value of $5,000 or more, you’ll need a qualified appraisal, and if the collective value is $20,000 or more, a copy of the appraisal must be attached to your tax return. If an individual item is valued at $20,000 or more, you may also be required to provide a photograph of that item.

If you’re considering a donation of artwork or other collectibles, contact us for help ensuring you can maximize your tax deduction.


Teens in your family with summer jobs? Set up IRAs for them!

Teenagers’ retirement may seem too far off to warrant saving now, but IRAs can be perfect for teens precisely because they’ll likely have many years to let their accounts grow tax-deferred or tax-free.

The 2015 contribution limit is the lesser of $5,500 or 100% of earned income. A teen’s traditional IRA contributions typically are deductible, but distributions will be taxed. Roth IRA contributions aren’t deductible, but qualified distributions will be tax-free.

Choosing a Roth IRA is typically a no-brainer if a teen doesn’t earn income that exceeds the standard deduction ($6,300 for 2015 for single taxpayers), because he or she will likely gain no benefit from deducting a traditional IRA contribution. Even above that amount, the teen probably is taxed at a low rate, so the Roth will typically still be the better answer.

How powerful can an IRA for a teen be? Here’s an example: Both Madison and Noah contribute $5,500 per year to their IRAs through age 66 and earn a 6% rate of return. But Madison starts contributing when she gets her first job at age 16, while Noah waits until age 23, after he’s graduated from college and started his career. Madison’s additional $38,500 of early contributions results in a nest egg at full retirement age of 67 that’s nearly $600,000 larger than Noah’s — $1,698,158 vs. $1,098,669!

Contact us for more ideas on helping teens benefit from tax-advantaged saving.


Act soon if you want to help your child buy a home

Mortgage interest rates are still at historically low levels, but they’re expected to go up by year end. So if you’ve been thinking about helping your child — or grandchild — buy a home, consider acting soon. There also are some favorable tax factors that will help:

0% capital gains rate. If the child is in the 10% or 15% tax bracket, instead of giving cash to help fund a down payment, consider giving long-term appreciated assets such as stock or mutual fund shares. The child can sell the assets without incurring any federal income taxes on the gain, and you can save the taxes you’d owe if you sold the assets yourself. As long as the assets are worth $14,000 or less (when combined with any other 2015 gifts to the child), there will be no federal gift tax consequences — thanks to the annual gift tax exclusion.

Low federal interest rates. Another tax-friendly option is lending funds to the child. Now is a good time for taking this step, too. Currently, Applicable Federal Rates — the rates that can be charged on intrafamily loans without causing unwanted tax consequences — are very low by historical standards. But these rates are also expected to increase by year end.


Tread carefully when determining compensation for S corp. shareholder-employees

By distributing profits in the form of dividends rather than salary, an S corporation and its owners can avoid payroll taxes on these amounts. Because of the additional 0.9% Medicare tax on wages in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers and $125,000 for married filing separately), the potential tax savings may be even greater than it once would have been. (S corporation dividends paid to shareholder-employees generally won’t be subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax.)

But paying little or no salary to S corporation shareholder-employees is risky. The IRS has targeted S corporations, assessing unpaid payroll taxes, penalties and interest against companies whose owners’ salaries are unreasonably low. To avoid such a result, S corporations should establish and document reasonable salaries for each position using compensation surveys, company financial data and other evidence.

Do you have questions about compensating S corporation shareholder-employees? Contact us — we can help you determine the mix of salary and dividends that can keep tax liability as low as possible while standing up to IRS scrutiny.


Tax treatment of NQSOs differs from that of their better-known counterpart

With nonqualified stock options (NQSOs), if the stock appreciates beyond your exercise price, you can buy shares at a price below what they’re trading for. This is the same as for the perhaps better-known incentive stock options (ISOs).

The tax treatment of NQSOs, however, differs from that of ISOs: NQSOs create compensation income — taxed at ordinary-income rates — on the “bargain element” (the difference between the stock’s fair market value and the exercise price) when exercised. This is regardless of whether the stock is held or sold immediately. Also, NQSO exercises don’t create an alternative minimum tax (AMT) preference item that can trigger AMT liability.

When you exercise NQSOs, you may need to make estimated tax payments or increase withholding to fully cover the tax. Keep in mind that an exercise could trigger or increase exposure to top tax rates, the additional 0.9% Medicare tax and the 3.8% net investment income tax.

Have tax questions about NQSOs or other stock-based compensation? Let us know — we’d be happy to answer them.


Summer time is a good time to start planning and organizing your taxes!

You may be tempted to forget all about your taxes once you've filed your tax return, but that's not a good idea. If you start your tax planning now, you may avoid a tax surprise when you file next year. Also, now is a good time to set up a system so you can keep your tax records safe and easy to find.

Here are some tips to give you a leg up on next year's taxes:

  1. 1. Take action when life changes occur. Some life events (such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child) can change the amount of tax you pay. When they happen, you may need to change the amount of tax withheld from your pay. To do that, file a new Form W-4 (“Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate”) with your employer. If you make estimated payments, those may need to be changed as well.

  2. 2. Keep records safe. Put your 2014 tax return and supporting records in a safe place. If you ever need your tax return or records, it will be easy for you to get them. You'll need your supporting documents if you are ever audited by the IRS. You may need a copy of your tax return if you apply for a home loan or financial aid.

  3. 3. Stay organized. Make tax time easier. Have your family put tax records in the same place during the year. That way you won't have to search for misplaced records when you file next year.

Tax impact of the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision

On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. For federal tax purposes, same-sex married couples were already considered married, under the Court’s 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor and subsequent IRS guidance — even if their state of residence didn’t recognize their marriage.

From a tax planning perspective, the latest ruling means that, in states where same-sex marriage hadn’t been recognized, same-sex married couples no longer will need to deal with the complications of being treated as married for federal tax purposes but not married for state tax purposes. So their tax and estate planning will be simplified and they can take advantage of state-level tax benefits for married couples. But in some cases, these couples will also be subject to some tax burdens, such as the “marriage penalty.”

Same-sex married couples should review their tax planning strategies and estate plans to determine what new opportunities may be available to them and whether there are any new burdens they should plan for. Employers will need to keep a close eye on how these developments will affect their tax obligations in relation to employees who have same-sex spouses. Please contact us if you have questions.


Large employers: Time to start planning for ACA information reporting

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 25 decision upholding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) yet again, employers subject to the act’s information reporting provision can no longer afford to put off planning in the hope that the requirements might go away.

Beginning in 2016, “large” employers as defined by the act (generally employers with 50 or more full-time employees or the equivalent) must file Forms 1094 and 1095 to provide information to the IRS and plan participants about health coverage provided in the previous year (2015).

Fortunately, recent IRS guidance helps clarify the reporting requirements. And a new IRS Q&A document addresses more specific issues that may arise while completing the forms.

Keep in mind that, while some “midsize” employers (generally employers with 50 to 99 full-time employees or the equivalent) can qualify for an exemption from the play-or-pay provision in 2015 if they meet certain requirements, these employers still will be subject to the information reporting requirements.

If your organization is among those required to file Forms 1094 and 1095 and you need help complying with the requirements, please contact us.


Opening the “back door” to a Roth IRA

A potential downside of tax-deferred saving through a traditional retirement plan is that you’ll have to pay taxes when you make withdrawals at retirement. Roth plans, on the other hand, allow tax-free distributions; the tradeoff is that contributions to these plans don’t reduce your current-year taxable income.

Unfortunately, modified adjusted gross income (MAGI)-based phase-outs may reduce or eliminate your ability to contribute:

  • For married taxpayers filing jointly, the 2015 phase-out range is $183,000–$193,000.
  • For single and head-of-household taxpayers, the 2015 phase-out range is $116,000–$131,000

 

You can make a partial contribution if your MAGI falls within the applicable range, but no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range.

 

If the income-based phase-out prevents you from making Roth IRA contributions and you don’t already have a traditional IRA, a “back door” IRA might be right for you. How does it work? You set up a traditional account and make a nondeductible contribution to it. You then wait until the transaction clears and convert the traditional account to a Roth account. The only tax due will be on any growth in the account between the time you made the contribution and the date of conversion.