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Parrish & Freitag

APRIL 2018 NEWSLETTER

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Tax filing reminders

 

April 17 –

  • Individual income tax returns for 2017 are due.
  • 2017 calendar-year C corporation income tax returns are due.
  • 2017 annual gift tax returns are due.
  • Deadline for making 2017 IRA contributions.
  • First installment of 2018 individual estimated tax is due.

When an extension makes sense

While most people should file a tax return by April 17, you have the option of delaying your filing date until Oct. 15 with a tax extension.

When to file an extension

  • Missing or incorrect information. If one of the forms you need to file your return has an error on it, it is often better to receive a corrected form before filing.
  • Recharacterizing Roth IRA rollover amounts. If you’ve rolled funds from a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA, you may want to reverse it later if the investments lose value. This so-called recharacterization process can be done up to the extended tax-filing date of Oct. 15, and in many cases it makes sense to wait until then. Note that 2017 is the last tax year you can use the recharacterization process, which was eliminated for future years by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
  • For self-employed retirement donations. The self-employed can use an extension to buy time to fund an SEP IRA. This extended time frame does not apply to traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs.
  • Avoid late filing penalty. If you fail to file a tax return, two tax penalties come into play: a late filing penalty and a late payment penalty. By filing an extension, you can push out the potential late-filing penalty for another six months even if you cannot yet pay the tax.

Great uses for your tax refund

Most Americans get a refund every year, with the average check weighing in at $2,895 last year. Even though it’s really money that they earned, many people are tempted to treat it like a windfall and splurge. If you can resist that temptation, here are some of the best ways to put your refund to good use:

  • Pay off debt. If you have debt, part of your refund could be used to reduce or eliminate it. Paying off high-interest credit card or auto loan debt means freeing up the money you had been paying in interest for other uses. And making extra payments on your mortgage can put more money in your pocket over the long haul.
  • Save for retirement. Saving for retirement allows the power of compound interest to work for you. Consider depositing some of your refund check into a traditional or Roth IRA. You can contribute a total of $5,500 every year, plus an extra $1,000 if you are at least 50 years old.
  • Save for a home. Home ownership can be a source of wealth and stability for many people. If you dream of owning a home, consider adding your refund to a down payment fund.
  • Invest in yourself. Sometimes the best investment isn’t financial, it’s personal. A course of study or conference that improves your skills or knowledge could be the best use of your money.
  • Give to charity. Giving your refund to a charity helps others and gives you a deduction for your next tax return.
  • Don’t give to scammers! Scammers are using a new tactic to separate people from their tax refunds. First, they file fraudulent refunds on behalf of their victims. Then, after a refund check arrives at the taxpayer’s address, they impersonate an IRS agent over the phone and demand to be sent the refund because it was sent in error. Remember, real IRS agents will never call over the phone and demand immediate payment for any reason.

If you use some of your refund for one of the ideas here, you can also feel good about setting a little aside for yourself to have some fun!

Stay prepared to sell your business

If you enjoy running your own business, selling it may be the furthest thing from your mind. But the reality is that eventually an opportunity to sell will come, whether due to your own life changes or a perfect buyer walking in the door. Planning, often years in advance of the sale date, is necessary to get the most value for the love, sweat and tears you’ve invested. Here are some tips to stay prepared:

  • Assemble a great team. Selling a business is a complex process, especially as you grow larger. You’re likely to need three kinds of professionals to help: an accountant, to help review and produce clean and easy-to-understand financial statements; a lawyer, to create the necessary legal documents and help you negotiate terms; and a trusted business broker, to evaluate the worth of your business and find buyers.
  • Develop your exit strategy. With the help of your advisory team, create a clear picture of what selling your business might look like. Outline the risks and opportunities that could affect the valuation of your business. Planning out an ideal scenario as well as a plan B will help you avoid getting backed into a corner and selling at a discount.
  • Clean up your financials. As you get closer to selling, go over your business financial statements as well as your tax returns from the last three years. A broker will like to present a clear and compelling financial picture to a client, and that will include a year-to-date financial report.
  • Have a plan to improve sales. The worst time to sell is when sales are declining, even if it’s just a temporary or seasonal dip. Part of your planning should include some tactics to boost your sales and cash flow, such as increasing marketing and promotion, liquidating bloated inventories or collecting on accounts receivables.
  • Be prepared to evaluate buyers. Be prepared to take a calm approach to any offers you get. You don’t want to jump at the first offer, and many offers that seem too good to be true often are. Lack of solid financing is often an issue, so work with your business broker to find buyers who have been prequalified by a lender.
  • Have your after-sale plan down. Often a buyer will want to include a clause that the previous owner stay on awhile as an advisor. Make sure that the advisory period lined out in the contract isn’t longer than is comfortable for you. Finally, work with your accountant on a tax-efficient plan for the proceeds of your sale.

MARCH 2018 NEWSLETTER

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Tax filing reminders

 

March 1 – Farmers and fishermen who did not make 2017 estimated tax payments must file 2017 tax returns and pay taxes in full.

 

March 2 – Automatic extension deadline for employers and health care providers to provide Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to individuals.

 

March 15

  • 2017 calendar-year S corporation income tax returns are due.
  • 2017 partnership returns are due.
  • Deadline for calendar-year corporations to elect S corporation status for 2018.

Alert: Expired home and education tax breaks revived

Congress passed a federal budget bill in early February that revived dozens of expired tax breaks for the 2017 tax year. They include a deduction for education expenses as well as several tax breaks for homeowners.

If you have not yet filed your 2017 tax return, please be aware these late changes are retroactive to the beginning of 2017. Check out this list of the most useful tax breaks to see if they apply to your situation:

Tuition and fees deduction. If you paid qualified tuition and related higher education expenses, you may be able to deduct as much as $4,000 of those costs. This can be done on a regular return (without itemizing). The deduction is capped at $4,000 for single filers with adjusted gross income (AGI) of $65,000 or less ($130,000 joint) and at $2,000 for single filers with AGI of $80,000 or less ($160,000 joint).

Mortgage insurance deduction. If you paid mortgage insurance premiums, you can now once again deduct those amounts as an itemized deduction. This deduction begins to phase out for taxpayers with AGI of $100,000 or more.

Mortgage debt forgiveness exclusion. If qualifying mortgage debt on your primary residence was discharged or forgiven, you can exclude that amount from your income.

Energy-efficient home improvement credit. Energy-efficient home improvements (such as upgrades to windows, or heating and cooling systems), may be eligible for a tax credit equal to 10 percent of the amount paid, up to $500.

If you think any of these apply to you, bring all the related documentation to your tax filing appointment. If you have already filed, you may need to file an amended tax return to capture these very late law changes.

Answers to commonly asked tax questions

With all of the headlines about the changes to tax law, you probably have lots of questions. Here are answers to some of the most common questions taxpayers have this year.

  1. I’m hearing about a lot of changes to 2018 taxes. What should I do?
    A. You’re right, there are a lot of changes in 2018 due to the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), including to the income tax brackets. The simple answer to the question, “What should I do?” is to not make any major changes until you finish filing your 2017 taxes. Once you understand your 2017 tax obligation, you are in a better position to plan for 2018.

    However, there are a few things you can start thinking about now. Depending on where you fall in the new income tax brackets, you may want to consider ways to lower your taxable income. This could include increasing your contributions to 401(k) retirement accounts or health savings accounts (HSAs). You’ll also want to make sure your employer has adjusted your federal tax withholding so that you don’t have to wait to receive a large refund (or tax bill) next year. You can review the IRS withholding calculator using your latest pay stub data to make sure the changes are accurate.

  2. What is the penalty amount if I didn’t have health insurance in 2017?
    A. The penalty per adult is calculated as the greater of either $695 or 2.5 percent of your yearly household income, up to a maximum of $3,264 for individuals or $16,320 for a family of five or more. Note that the penalty is still in place for tax years 2017 and 2018. The TCJA eliminates the penalty for 2019 through 2025.
  3. Is Social Security taxed?
    A. It depends. You won’t pay tax on more than 85 percent of your Social Security income, but how much gets taxed depends on your income bracket. If your combined income is less than $25,000 for the year, you won’t pay tax on Social Security income.
  4. When is the last day to do my taxes?
    A. Technically, Tuesday, April 17. But don’t wait until the last minute. Ask for help to get started now, or to file an extension so you have time to complete your tax return later. The sooner you file, the sooner you can get your refund. It usually takes about three weeks to arrive from the date you file. Also, remember you need to keep most tax related documents for at least three years, so don’t toss your paperwork after you file.
  5. The IRS contacted me, what should I do?
    A. Ask for help. There are numerous scammers who impersonate the IRS during tax season. The real IRS will never contact you via social media, email or text message. In addition, an IRS agent will not contact you over the phone unless you first receive official correspondence in the mail. If you have received a notice in the mail, immediately ask for help to determine how to proceed.

These are just a few of the questions people have during tax season. If you have more, don’t forget to bring them to your 2017 filing appointment.


Tax checklist for business startups

Starting your own business can be equal parts thrilling and intimidating. Complying with regulations and tax requirements definitely falls into the latter category. But, with some professional help, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can get started with this checklist of things you’ll need to consider.

  • Are you a hobby or a business? This may seem basic to some people, but the first thing you’ll have to consider when starting out is whether you really are operating a business, or pursuing a hobby. A hobby can look like a business, but essentially it’s something you do for its own sake that may or may not turn a profit. A true business is generally run for the purpose of making money and has a reasonable expectation of turning a profit. The benefit of operating as a business is that you have more tax tools available to you, such as being able to deduct your losses.
  • Pick your business structure. If you operate as a business, you’ll have to choose whether it will be taxed as a sole proprietorship, partnership, S corporation or C corporation. All entities except C corporations “pass through” their business income onto your personal tax return. The decision gets more complicated if you legally organize your business as a limited liability corporation (LLC). In this case you will need to choose your tax status as either a partnership or an S corporation. Each tax structure has its benefits and downsides – it’s best to discuss what is best for you.
  • Apply for tax identification numbers. In most cases, your business will have to apply for an employer identification number (EIN) from both the federal and state governments.
  • Select an accounting method. You’ll have to choose whether to use an accrual or cash accounting method. Generally speaking, the accrual method means your business revenue and expenses are recorded when they are billed. In the cash method, revenue and expenses are instead recorded when you are paid. There are federal rules regarding which option you may use. You will also have to choose whether to operate on a calendar year or fiscal year.
  • Create a plan to track financials. Operating a business successfully requires continuous monitoring of your financial condition. This includes forecasting your financials and tracking actual performance against your projections. Too many businesses fail in the first couple of years because they fail to understand the importance of cash flow for startup operations. Don’t let this be you.
  • Prepare for your tax requirements. Business owners generally will have to make quarterly estimated tax payments to the IRS. If you have employees, you’ll have to pay your share of their Social Security and Medicare taxes. You also have the obligation to withhold your employees’ share of taxes, Social Security and Medicare from their wages. Your personal income tax return can also get more complicated if you operate as one of the “pass-through” business structures.

This is just a short list of some of the things you should be ready to discuss as you start your business. Knowing your way around these rules can make the difference between success and failure, but don’t be intimidated. Help is available so don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions.

FEBRUARY 2018 NEWSLETTER

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Tax filing reminders

 

February 28 – Payers must file most other Forms 1099 (except certain Forms 1099-MISC due Jan. 31) with the IRS. (April 2 if filing electronically.)

 

March 1 – Farmers and fishermen who did not make 2017 estimated tax payments must file 2017 tax returns and pay taxes in full.

 

March 2 – Automatic extension deadline for employers and health care providers to provide Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to individuals.

 

March 15

  • 2017 calendar-year S corporation income tax returns are due.
  • 2017 partnership returns are due.
  • Deadline for calendar-year corporations to elect S corporation status for 2018.

 

New 2018 capital expense rules

There are many provisions in the tax reform bill passed in late 2017 designed to benefit small business owners. There are also a variety of new tax tools affecting how small businesses account for deducting the cost of capital purchases under the new tax law. Here’s what you need to know:

Tool #1: Section 179 deduction
The new law increases the amount of business property purchases that you can expense each year under Section 179 to $1 million (from $500,000 previously). Normally, spending on business property (machines, computers, vehicles, software, office equipment, etc.) is capitalized and depreciated so that the tax benefit is spread out slowly over several years. Section 179 allows you to get the tax break immediately in the year the property is placed into service.

Tips:

  • There is an eligibility phaseout for Section 179 that ensures it’s only used by small businesses, but that was also raised to $2.5 million (from $2 million) by the new law. If you spend more than $2.5 million on business property in total during the year, your ability to use the $1 million Section 179 deduction is reduced dollar-for-dollar above that amount.
  • Section 179 deductions can be used on both new and used equipment.
  • You can now use Section 179 on property used to furnish lodging or in connection with furnishing lodging (such as rental real estate). It also includes improvements to nonresidential real estate assets such as roofs, heating and air conditioning, and alarm systems.

Tool #2: Bonus depreciation
Bonus depreciation limits (also known as first-year bonus depreciation) are also improved under the new law, but for a limited time. Bonus depreciation is similar to Section 179 and allows you to immediately expense capital purchases rather than depreciating them over several years.

Under the new law, first-year bonus depreciation increases to 100 percent of the qualified asset purchase price for the next five tax years (starting in 2018) and can now be applied to the expense of purchasing used property as well as new.

Tips:

  • Bonus depreciation is typically used on short-lived capital investments (with a 20-year or less useful life) such as machinery, equipment and software.
  • Bonus depreciation had been only for purchases of new equipment, but can now be applied to used equipment as long as you place it into service at your business during the tax year.
  • The allowable bonus depreciation starts to decline after 2022. It falls to 80 percent in 2023, 60 percent in 2024, 40 percent in 2025 and 20 percent in 2026.

Remember, though tax reform gives you expanded tools to accelerate depreciation, it may not benefit you to use them in every case. Sometimes it’s better to use the standard capitalization and depreciation tax treatment. These tax benefits do not change the amount a capital purchase can be expensed – only the timing. Calculating whether your business will benefit from these revamped expensing tools can get complicated, so give us a call if you need assistance.

Tips for when your employees are family members

Working with family can be a pleasure. It can also be a pain, especially if you have to terminate a family member’s employment. Here are tips to help you ease the strain of mixing your family and employee relationships.

Hire for the right reasons. Make your hiring and firing decisions based on the skill sets needed to keep your business operating effectively. Hiring your son because he’s struggling to find a job is not a good business reason for bringing staff on board.

Set clear expectations. Communicate the job’s performance requirements to your family member right from the start. Clearly define company policies for promotion, compensation and termination. Make it plain that unethical conduct will not be tolerated.

Avoid nepotism. Nepotism is our human habit of treating family members more favorably than others. Keep in mind that your non-family employees will be hypersensitive to any favoritism you show to relatives.

Document performance. Throughout your family member’s tenure, maintain a detailed personnel file that tracks behavior resulting in disciplinary actions. In the unfortunate case of a necessary firing, a well-documented file will provide a narrative record that lays out your reasons and clearly communicates the evidence leading to your decision.

If you have to fire, keep it professional. Set a formal termination meeting. You may want to involve a direct supervisor or a human resources professional to ensure that your company is appropriately represented and to prevent the conversation from lapsing into emotional arguments.

The bottom line: Adhere to formal business standards and communicate in a professional, businesslike manner with your related employees.

Taxes and virtual currencies: What you need to know

Virtual currencies are all the rage lately. Here are some tax consequences you must know if you decide to dip your toe into that world.

The IRS is paying close attention
The first thing to know is that the IRS is scrutinizing virtual currency transactions, so if you live in the U.S. you’ll have to report your transactions in Bitcoins and the like to the IRS. Despite some early misconceptions, virtual currency transactions can be traced back to their owners by governments and other cyber sleuths.

If you decide to use or hold virtual currencies, carefully report and pay tax on your transactions. Act as if you are going to be audited, because if you don’t, you just might be!

It’s property, not money
Note that the IRS doesn’t consider Bitcoin or other virtual currencies as money, because they aren’t legal tender. Instead, they are considered property. That means that if you are paid in Bitcoin, you will have to report it as income based on its fair market value on the date you received it.

And, if you sell Bitcoin, you have to pay tax on your gain using the cost (basis) of when you received it. The IRS has said that if Bitcoin is held as a capital asset, like a stock or a bond, then you would pay capital gains tax. Otherwise, if it is not held as a capital asset (for example if it is treated as inventory that you intend to sell to customers), it would be taxed as ordinary income.

Be aware of the risk
In addition to the increased oversight by the IRS, virtual currencies are at risk of virtual theft with no recourse to a government agency like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insures U.S. bank balances. Do your research on storage and security before you invest. And if you need help with any tax questions related to virtual currency, don’t hesitate to call.

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: What the Tax Reform Bills Means For You

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Revised: 12/28/2017

Congress has passed a tax reform act that will take effect in 2018, ushering in some of the most significant tax changes in three decades. There are a lot of changes in the new act, which was signed into law on Dec. 22, 2017.

You can use this memo as a high-level overview of some of the most significant items in the new act. Because major tax reform like this happens so seldom, it may be worthwhile for you to schedule a tax-planning consultation early in the year to ensure you reap the most tax savings possible during 2018.

Key changes for individuals:

Here are some of the key items in the tax reform act that affect individuals:

  • Reduces income tax brackets: The act retains seven brackets, but at reduced rates, with the highest tax bracket dropping to 37 percent from 39.6 percent. The individual income brackets are also expanded to expose more income to lower rates (see charts below).
  • Doubles standard deductions: The standard deduction nearly doubles to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married filing jointly. To help cover the cost, personal exemptions and most additional standard deductions are suspended.
  • Limits itemized deductions: Many itemized deductions are no longer available, or are now limited. Here are some of the major examples:
    • Caps state and local tax deductions: State and local tax deductions are limited to $10,000 total for all property, income and sales taxes.
    • Caps mortgage interest deductions: For new acquisition indebtedness, mortgage interest will be deductible on indebtedness of no more than $750,000. Existing mortgages are unaffected by the new cap as the new limits go into place for acquisition indebtedness after Dec. 14, 2017. The act also suspends the deductibility of interest on home equity debt.
    • Limit of theft and casualty losses: Deductions are now available only for federally declared disaster areas.
    • No more 2 percent miscellaneous deductions: Most miscellaneous deductions subject to the 2 percent of adjusted gross income threshold are now gone.

Tip: If you’re used to itemizing your return, that may change in coming years as the doubled standard deduction and reduced deductions make itemizing less attractive. To the extent you can, make any remaining itemizable expenditures before the end of 2017.

  • Cuts some above-the-line deductions: Moving expense deductions get eliminated except for active-duty military personnel, along with alimony deductions beginning in 2019.
  • Weakens the alternative minimum tax (AMT): The act retains the alternative minimum tax but changes the exemption to $109,400 for joint filers and increases the phaseout threshold to $1 million. The changes mean the AMT will affect far fewer people than before.
  • Bumps up child tax credit, adds family tax credit: The child tax credit increases to $2,000 from $1,000, with $1,400 of it being refundable even if no tax is owed. The phaseout threshold increases sharply to $400,000 from $110,000 for joint filers, making it available to more taxpayers. Also, dependents ineligible for the child tax credit can qualify for a new $500-per-person family tax credit.
  • Expands use of 529 education savings plans: Qualified distributions from 529 education savings plans, which are not subject to tax, now include tuition payments for students in K-12 private schools.
  • Doubles estate tax exemption: Estate taxes will apply to even fewer people, with the exemption doubled to $11.2 million ($22.4 million for married couples).
  • Kiddie tax: Effective 2018, the “kiddie tax” on children’s unearned income will use the estates and trusts tax rate structure, meaning it will be taxed anywhere from 10 percent to 37 percent.

What stays the same for individuals:

  • Itemized charitable deductions: Remain largely the same.
  • Itemized medical expense deductions: Remain largely the same. The deduction threshold drops back to 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income for 2017 and 2018, but reverts to 10 percent in the following years.
  • Some above-the-line deductions: Remain the same, including $250 of educator expenses and $2,500 of qualified student loan interest.
  • Gift tax deduction: Remains and increases to $15,000 from $14,000 for 2018.

Farewell to the healthcare individual mandate penalty

One of the changes in the tax act is the suspension of the individual mandate penalty in the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”). The penalty is set to zero starting in 2019, but remains in place for 2018 and prior years.

Tip: Retain your Form 1095s, which will provide evidence of your healthcare coverage. Without it, you may have to pay the individual mandate penalty, which is the higher of $695 or 2.5 percent of income. Beginning in 2019, this penalty is set to zero.

NOTICE: The IRS recently granted employers and health care providers a 30-day filing extension for Forms 1095-B and 1095-C, to March 2, 2018. The IRS clarified that taxpayers are not required to wait until receipt of these forms to file their taxes.

 

New 2018 tax bracket structures for individuals

Single taxpayer

Taxable income over But not over Is taxed at
$0 $9,525 10%
$9,525 $38,700 12%
$38,700 $82,500 22%
$82,500 $157,500 24%
$157,500 $200,000 32%
$200,000 $500,000 35%
$500,000   37%

Head of household

Taxable income over But not over Is taxed at
$0 $13,600 10%
$13,600 $51,800 12%
$51,800 $82,500 22%
$82,500 $157,500 24%
$157,500 $200,000 32%
$200,000 $500,000 35%
$500,000   37%

 


Married filing jointly

Taxable income over But not over Is taxed at
$0 $19,050 10%
$19,050 $77,400 12%
$77,400 $165,000 22%
$165,000 $315,000 24%
$315,000 $400,000 32%
$400,000 $600,000 35%
$600,000   37%

 


Married filing separately

Taxable income over But not over Is taxed at
$0 $9,525 10%
$9,525 $38,700 12%
$38,700 $82,500 22%
$82,500 $157,500 24%
$157,500 $200,000 32%
$200,000 $300,000 35%
$300,000   37%

 

Estates and trusts

Taxable income over But not over Is taxed at
$0 $2,550 10%
$2,550 $9,150 24%
$9,150 $12,500 35%
$12,500   37%

 

Key changes for small businesses:

Here are some of these key items in the tax reform act that affect businesses:

  • Cuts the corporate tax rate: Corporate tax gets cut and simplified to a flat 21 percent rate, changed from a multi-bracket structure with a 35 percent top rate.
  • Reduces pass-through taxes: Most owners of pass-through entities such as S corporations, partnerships and sole proprietorships will see their income tax lowered with a new 20 percent income reduction calculation.
  • Beefs up capital expensing: Through 2022, short-lived capital investments in such items as machinery and equipment may be fully expensed as soon as they are placed in service, using bonus depreciation. This now also applies to used items instead of only new ones; they just need to be placed in service for the first time in your business. After 2022, allowable bonus depreciation is then lowered incrementally over the next four years.
  • Strengthens Section 179 deduction: Section 179 deduction limits get raised to enable expensing of up to $1 million, and the phaseout threshold increases to $2.5 million. Section 179 may now also be used on expenses related to improvements to nonresidential real estate.
  • Nixes the corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT): The 20 percent corporate AMT applied to businesses goes away entirely.
  • Expands use of cash-method accounting: Businesses with less than $25 million in gross receipts over the last three years may adopt the cash method of accounting.
  • Reforms international taxation: Treatment of international income moves to the territorial system standard, in which foreign investments are generally only taxed in the place in which they operate. The new laws allow tax deductions for certain foreign-sourced dividends, reduced tax rates for foreign intangible income and reduced tax rates for repatriation of deferred foreign income.
  • Repeals business entertainment deduction: Businesses will no longer be able to deduct 50 percent of the cost of entertainment, amusement or recreation directly related to their trade or business. The 50 percent deduction for business-related meals remains in place, however.
  • Modifies several business credits: Several business credits are maintained but modified, including the orphan drug credit, the rehabilitation credit, the employer credit for paid family or medical leave and the research and experimentation credit.
  • Boosts luxury automobile depreciation: Luxury automobiles placed in service after 2017 will have allowable depreciation of $10,000 for the first year, $16,000 the second, $9,600 the third and $5,760 for subsequent years.

January 2018 Newsletter

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Tax filing reminders

 

  • January 16 – Due date for the fourth installment of 2017 individual estimated tax.
  • January 31 –
  • Due date for employers to furnish W-2 statements to employees, and to file Forms W-2 with the Social Security Administration (both paper and electronic forms).
  • Due date for payers to provide most Forms 1099-MISC with non-employee compensation in box 7 to recipients and to the IRS.
  • Employers must file 2017 federal unemployment tax returns and pay any tax due.
  • Due date for providers to send Forms 1095 to recipients and the IRS.

Looking ahead: Tax reform in 2018

Congress has passed tax reform that will take effect in 2018, ushering in some of the most significant tax changes in three decades. Here are some major items in the new bill that impact individual taxpayers.

  • Reduces income tax brackets. The bill retains seven brackets, but at reduced rates, with the highest tax bracket dropping to 37 percent from 39.6 percent.
  • Double standard deductions. The standard deduction nearly doubles to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married filing jointly. To help cover the cost, personal exemptions and most additional standard deductions are suspended.
  • Limits itemized deductions. Many itemized deductions are no longer available, or are now limited. Here are some of the major examples:
    • Caps state and local tax deductions. State and local tax deductions are limited to $10,000 total for all property, income and sales taxes.
    • Caps mortgage interest deductions. For newly acquired homes, mortgage interest will be deductible only for mortgages of less than $750,000. Existing homeowners are unaffected by the new cap. The bill also suspends the deductibility of interest on equity debt.
    • Limit on theft and casualty losses. Now only available for federally declared disaster areas.
    • No more 2 percent miscellaneous deductions. Most miscellaneous deductions subject to the 2 percent of adjusted gross income threshold are now gone.
  • Cuts some above-the-line deductions. Moving expense deductions get eliminated except for active-duty military personnel, along with alimony deductions beginning in 2019.
  • Weakens the alternative minimum tax (AMT). The bill retains the alternative minimum tax but changes the exemption to $109,400 for joint filers and the phaseout threshold to $1 million. The changes mean the AMT will affect far fewer people than before.
  • Bumps up child tax credit, adds family tax credit. The child tax credit increases to $2,000 from $1,000, with $1,400 of it being refundable even if no tax is owed. The phaseout threshold increases sharply to $400,000 from $110,000 for joint filers, making it available to more taxpayers. Also, dependents ineligible for the child tax credit can qualify for a new $500-per-person family tax credit.
  • Expands use of 529 education savings plans. Tax-deductible contributions to 529 education savings plans can now be used to pay tuition for students in K-12 private schools.
  • Doubles estate tax exemption. Estate taxes will apply to fewer people, with the exemption doubled to $11.2 million ($22.4 million for a married couple).
  • Reduces pass-through business taxes. Most owners of pass-through entities such as S corporations, partnerships and sole proprietorships will see their income tax lowered with a new 20 percent income reduction calculation.

Mileage rates for 2018

The IRS recently announced mileage rates to be used for travel in 2018. The standard business mileage rate increased by 1 cent to 54.5 cents per mile. The medical and moving mileage rates also increased by 1 cent, to 18 cents per mile. Charitable mileage rates remained unchanged at 14 cents per mile.

 

Remember to properly document your mileage to receive full credit for your miles driven.

The best way to avoid an audit: Preparation

Getting audited by the IRS is no fun. Some taxpayers are selected for random audits every year, but the chances of that happening to you are very small. You are much more likely to fall under the IRS’s gaze if you make one of several common mistakes.

That means your best chance of avoiding an audit is by doing things right before you file your return this year. Here are some suggestions:

Don’t leave anything out. Missing or incomplete information on your return will trigger an audit letter automatically, since the IRS gets copies of the same tax forms (such as W-2s and 1099s) that you do.

Double-check your numbers. Bad math will get you audited. People often make calculation errors when they do their returns, especially if they do them without assistance. In 2016, the IRS sent out more than 1.6 million examination letters correcting math errors. The most frequent errors occurred in people’s calculation of their amount of tax due, as well as the number of exemptions and deductions they claimed.

Don’t stand out. The IRS takes a closer look at business expenses, charitable donations and high-value itemized deductions. IRS computers reference statistical data on which amounts of these items are typical for various professions and income levels. If what you are claiming is significantly different from what is typical, it may be flagged for review.

Have your documentation in order. Keep your records in order by being meticulous about your recordkeeping. Items that will support the tax breaks you take include: cancelled checks, receipts, credit card and investment statements, logs for mileage and business meals, and proof of charitable donations. With proper documentation, a correspondence letter from the IRS inquiring about a particular deduction can be quickly resolved before it turns into a full-blown audit.

Remember, the average person has a less than 1 percent chance of being audited. If you prepare now, you can narrow your audit chances even further and rest easy after you’ve filed.

December 2017 Newsletter

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Tax filing reminders

  • December 15 Due date for calendar-year corporations to pay the fourth installment of 2017 estimated income tax.
  • December 31 –
    • Deadline to complete 2017 tax-free gifts of up to $14,000 per recipient.
    • Deadline for paying expenses you want to be able to deduct on your 2017 income tax return.

Get ready to save more in 2018

You can save more for retirement next year using tax-advantaged accounts, thanks to a boost in the maximum 401(k) contribution rate by the IRS. The maximum rate increases by $500 to $18,500, which is the first increase in three years. Those aged 50 or older can still contribute an additional $6,000 on top of that amount.

This is good news, because a 401(k) is one of most potent tools in your retirement arsenal. It offers many benefits over other forms of saving, including:

  • Tax-deferred growth. Pre-tax income of $18,500 invested over 30 years with 6 percent annual cumulative interest will grow to $111,901.92. That’s compared with $67,588.76 of the same amount of income invested after being taxed at the highest rate. While you’ll owe tax on 401(k) withdrawals after retirement, you may be able to manage your 401(k) withdrawals to fall into a lower income bracket.
  • Roth option. You may opt to make your contributions to a 401(k) as a Roth investment, meaning you invest post-tax income, but you can withdraw from your Roth tax-free during retirement. A mix of traditional and Roth accounts will give you flexibility to manage your income tax rate during retirement.
  • Company match. Many companies offer to match the first few percentage points of their employees contributions to a 401(k). Even if you can’t max out your contribution, you should try to invest up to your company’s match limit. Otherwise, you’re just leaving money on the table.

While 401(k)s have great utility, they come with a few downsides. Any withdrawals made before age 59 1/2 are assessed a 10 percent penalty fee, in addition to being taxed as regular income during the year they are withdrawn. Any investments in 401(k)s also are limited to a few choices set by your employer’s retirement plan, so a limited number of conventional investment options in mutual funds is one of the trade-offs of using a 401(k).

4 business year-end tax moves

Even though the end of 2017 is near, it is not too late to get your business into the best possible tax position for the new year.

Here are some year-end tax moves to consider:

  • Update the office. A fresh coat of paint and new office furnishings not only make your place of business more comfortable, they also provide another tax deduction. How you handle deducting these expenses will vary depending upon whether you own or lease your office space, so reach out for assistance if you have questions.
  • Reward your staff. If you have sufficient cash flow, giving your staff a year-end bonus is a great way to let them know you appreciate them. It’s also tax-deductible.
  • Update your skills. Attend a workshop or conference to improve your professional skills. While there are some limitations, many travel, lodging and out-of-pocket expenses related to professional training are tax-deductible.
  • Be nimble. Recent discussions in Congress could mean a dramatic change in taxes on business profits beginning in 2018. Stay abreast of these developments in case you need to make last-minute moves to shift profits from one year to the next to reduce your tax rate.

There are a lot of nuances in the tax code affecting each of these end-of-year moves. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you need advice.

New year, new job
5 tax tips for job changers

There are a lot of new things to get used to when you change jobs, from new responsibilities to adjusting to a new company culture. You may not have considered the tax issues created when you change jobs. Here are tips to reduce any potential tax problems related to making a job change this coming year.

  1. Don’t forget about in-between pay. It is easy to forget to account for pay received while you’re between jobs. This includes severance and accrued vacation or sick pay from your former employer. It also includes unemployment benefits. All are taxable but may not have had taxes withheld, causing a surprise at tax time.
  2. Adjust your withholdings. A new job requires you to fill out a new Form W-4, which directs your employer how much to withhold from each paycheck. It may not be best to go with the default withholding schedule, which assumes you have been making the salary of your new job all year. You may need to make special adjustments to avoid having too much or too little taken from your paycheck. This is especially true if there is a significant salary change or you have a period of low-or-no income. Keep in mind you’ll have to fill out a new W-4 in the next year to rebalance your withholding for a full year of your new salary.
  3. Roll over your 401(k). While you can leave your 401(k) in your old employer’s plan, you may wish to roll it over into your new employer’s 401(k) or into an IRA. The best way is to get your retirement funds transferred directly between investment companies. If you take a direct check, you’ll have to deposit it into the new account within 60 days, or you may be assessed a 10 percent penalty and pay income tax on the withdrawal.
  4. Deduct job-hunting expenses. Tally up your job-seeking expenses. If they and other miscellaneous deductible expenses total more than 2 percent of your adjusted gross income for the year, you can deduct them on an itemized return. This includes things like costs for job-search tools, placement agencies and recruiters, and printing, mailing and travel costs. A couple caveats: you can only use these deductions if your expenses were to search for a job in the same industry as your previous job, and you were not reimbursed for them by your new employer.
  5. Deduct moving and home sale expenses. If you moved to take a new job that is at least 50 miles farther from your previous home than your old job was, you can also deduct your moving expenses. There’s another benefit for movers, too. Typically, you can only use the $250,000 capital-gain exclusion for home sales if you lived in your primary residence for two of the last five years before you sold it. But there is an exception to the rule if you sold your home to take a new job.

Finding a new job can be an exciting experience, and one that can create tax consequences if not handled correctly. Feel free to call for a discussion of your situation.

November 2017 Newsletter

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Year-end tax checklist

As the year draws to a close, there are several tax-saving ideas you should consider. Use this checklist to make sure you don’t miss an opportunity before the year is out.

  • Retirement distributions and contributions. Make final contributions to your qualified retirement plan, and take any required minimum distributions from your retirement accounts. The penalty for not taking minimum distributions can be high.
  • Investment management. Rebalance your investment portfolio, and take any final investment gains and losses. Capital losses can be used to net against your capital gains. You can also take up to $3,000 of capital losses in excess of capital gains each year and use it to lower your ordinary income.
  • Last-minute charitable giving. Make a late-year charitable donation. Even better, make the donation with appreciated stock you’ve owned more than a year. You can often can make a larger donation – and get a larger deduction – without paying capital gains taxes.
  • Noncash contribution opportunity. Gather up noncash items for donation, document the items and give those in good condition to your favorite charity. Make sure you get a receipt from the charity, and take a photo of the items donated just in case.
  • Gifts to dependents and others. You may provide gifts to an individual tax-free of up to $14,000 per year in total. Remember that all gifts given (birthdays, holidays, etc.) count toward the total.
  • Organize records now. Start collecting and organizing your end-of-year tax records. Estimate your tax liability and make any required estimated tax payments.

The Equifax breach and you: be proactive

Earlier this year, hackers were able to breach the security of Equifax, one of the three national credit reporting agencies. More than 143 million Americans – nearly half the entire country – were exposed to the attack, and may have had their personal information stolen (including names and birthdates, and Social Security and driver’s license numbers).

Equifax is still determining exactly whose data has been exposed. While you wait to find out, it’s worth taking a few proactive steps to make sure your info isn’t misused by hackers. 1. Start checking. Visit Equifax’s website at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com and enter your last name and last six digits of your Social Security number. The site will tell you whether it’s likely or not your data has been exposed, and put you on a list to get more information. You can also sign up for a year’s worth of free credit monitoring.

  1. Watch your statements.Start checking your credit card statements, and pay special attention to cards you don’t use often. The initial reports from the breach were that hackers may have been making charges on underused cards.
  2. Check your credit reports.You can look for suspicious items on your reports, such as new accounts being opened in your name, at all three credit report agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Free annual reports are available at www.annualcreditreport.com. You may want to stagger your use of the reports to one from each agency every four months. More frequent checks will cost you a small fee.
  3. Freeze your credit.If you suspect you may become a victim of identity theft, you can place a credit freeze on your profile at each of the three credit reporting agencies. This stops new accounts from being opened in your name. Note that you’ll have to unfreeze your accounts if you want to apply for new loans or make your credit accessible for things such as job applications.
  4. File your taxes early.One of the most common ways identity thieves use your information is to try to claim a tax refund with your data. This was the most common scam in 2016, according to the Better Business Bureau. If you file your tax return as early as possible, you shut down this opportunity for any would-be thieves.

6 must-dos when you donate to charity

Donations are a great way to give to a deserving charity, and they also give back in the form of a tax deduction. Unfortunately, charitable donations are under scrutiny by the IRS, and many donations without adequate documentation are being rejected. Here are six things you need to do to ensure your charitable donation will be tax-deductible:

  1. Make sure your charity is eligible. Only donations to qualified charitable organizations registered with the IRS are tax-deductible. You can confirm an organization qualifies by calling the IRS at (877) 829-5500 or visiting the IRS website.
  2. Itemize. You must itemize your deductions using Schedule A in order to take a deduction for a contribution. If you’re going to itemize your return to take advantage of charitable deductions, it also makes sense to look for other itemized deductions. These include state and local taxes, real estate taxes, home mortgage interest and eligible medical expenses over a certain threshold.
  3. Get receipts.Get receipts for your deductible contributions. Receipts are not filed with your tax return but must be kept with your tax records. You must get the receipt at the time of the donation or the IRS may not allow the deduction.
  4. Pay attention to the calendar.Contributions are deductible in the year they are made. To be deductible in 2017, contributions must be made by Dec. 31, although thereis an exception. Contributions made by credit card are deductible even if you don’t pay off the charge until the following year, as long as the contribution is reported on your credit card statement by Dec. 31. Similarly, contribution checks written before Dec. 31 are deductible in the year written, even if the check is not cashed until the following year.
  5. Take extra steps for noncash donations.You can make a contribution of clothing or items around the home you no longer use. If you decide to make one of these noncash contributions, it is up to youto determine the value of the contribution. However, many charities provide a donation value guide to help you determine the value of your contribution. Your donated items must be in good or better condition and you should receive a receipt from the charitable organization for your donations. If your noncash contributions are greater than $500, you must file a Form 8283 to provide additional information to the IRS about your contribution. For noncash donations greater than $5,000, you must also get an independent appraisal to certify the worth of the items.
  6. Keep track of mileage.If you drive for charitable purposes, this mileage can be deductible as well. For example, miles driven to deliver meals to the elderly, to be a volunteer coach or to transport others to and from a charitable event, can be deducted at 14 cents per mile. A log of the mileage must be maintained to substantiate your charitable driving.

Remember, charitable giving can be a valuable tax deduction – but only if you take the right steps.

October 2017 Newsletter

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Tax Filing Reminders

  • October 16
    • Filing deadline for 2016 tax returns for individuals or corporations if you requested/received a six-month extension. Pay taxes due by this date.
    • Deadline to recharacterize a Roth IRA to a Traditional IRA.
    • Deadline to fund your Keogh or SEP plans if you requested a filing extension.

How to Ace the FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a tool that students use to apply for more than $120 billion in federal funds. Unfortunately, each year many students miss out.

Even if you don’t think you or your child qualify for federal aid, filling out a FAFSA is important because it could be used to determine eligibility for nonfederal aid and private funds.

FAFSA available October 1, 2017 Previously, the FAFSA was unavailable until January. A recent change makes the application available October 1, 2017. That’s because the 2018-19 FAFSA can be completed with your 2016 tax info.

Avoid FAFSA mistakes Don’t forgo federal student aid by making one of the following common filing mistakes:

Mistake: Not reading the instructions or questions Tip: Answer all questions – even if the answer is zero. If left blank, the question will be considered unanswered. Check the FAFSA website if you are unsure of definitions of key FAFSA terms.

Mistake: Incorrect, incomplete or non-matching data Tip: Complete the FAFSA online. It takes only 3-5 days to process when submitted electronically. The online version has built-in safeguards that identify and prevent many errors.

Mistake: Not filing on time Tip: Get the application submitted ASAP. The sooner you or your child gets started, the higher the likelihood of being awarded funds since many are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.

Remember, students need to complete a FAFSA each year because eligibility does not carry over and can vary based on circumstances.

Renew your ITIN now

If you have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) rather than a Social Security number (SSN) you may need to take action or you’ll be unable to file a tax return for 2017.

What to know about ITINs ITINs are identification numbers issued by the U.S. government for individuals who do not qualify to receive an SSN. An ITIN can be used to file tax returns and is also a form of identification often required by banks, insurance companies and other institutions. Unfortunately, ITINs are also a source of identity fraud. To combat this, the 2015 PATH Act made substantial changes to the program. Now a number of ITINs will expire if not renewed by December 31, 2017.

No ITIN, no problem. If you do not have an ITIN, but have an SSN, this expiration does not affect you.

No tax return in past three years. ITINs that have not been used when filing a tax return at least once in the past three years will automatically expire on December 31, 2017.

Middle digits of 70, 71, 72 and 80 also expire. The new law creates a rolling expiration date for all issued ITINs. The key number to look for is in this position: 9xx-XX-xxxx. If your ITIN has any of those numbers, you’ll need to renew it. Last year the middle digits of 78 and 79 expired.

Renew your ITIN Don’t wait until the last minute and then discover your tax return has been rejected and your refund is delayed because of an expired ITIN. To renew, fill out Form W-7 with the required support documents. To learn more, visit the ITIN information page on the IRS website.

Business tax: time to consider Section 179?

Section 179 expensing can be a very powerful tax-planning tool for small- and medium-sized businesses acquiring capital assets. While it doesn’t change the amount of depreciation you can take over the life of a capital purchase, it can change the timing by allowing you to deduct your purchase in the first year you place it in service.

Review these details if you’re considering depreciating your business assets under Section 179:

  • Section 179 allows deducting the expense of up to $510,000 of qualified business purchases.
  • A Section 179 deduction cannot create a loss for the business.
  • A Section 179 deduction must be for business use. If an asset is not entirely used for business, the allowance is reduced.
  • If you sell a Section 179 asset prior to the full depreciation period, you will have to record any sales proceeds as taxable income.
  • Many states limit the use of this federal shifting of depreciation.

Taking Section 179 for capital purchases can be useful, but it’s not for everyone. Using it for an immediate tax break means it’ll no longer be available for future years.

September 2017 Newsletter

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Tax Filing Reminders

  • September 15
    • Third quarter installment of 2017 individual and corporation estimated income tax is due.
    • S corporations: Filing deadline for 2016 tax returns for S corporations that requested/received a six-month extension.
    • Partnerships: Filing deadline for 2016 tax returns for partnerships that requested/received an automatic six-month extension.
    • Electing large partnerships: Filing deadline for 2016 tax returns for electing large partnerships that requested/received a six-month extension.
  • October 16 – Filing deadline for 2016 individual or corporation tax returns that requested/received a six-month extension. Pay taxes due by this date.

Say Goodbye to the College Tuition Deduction

Congress decided not to extend this $4,000 deduction for 2017, leaving many parents worried that college will now be more expensive. However, Congress left in place two popular education credits that may offer a more valuable tax break:

  • The AOTC. The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) is a credit of up to $2,500 per student per year for qualified undergraduate tuition, fees and course materials. The deduction phases out at higher income levels, and is eliminated altogether for married couples with a modified adjusted gross income of $180,000 ($90,000 for singles).
  • Lifetime Learning Credit. The Lifetime Learning Credit provides an annual credit of 20 percent on the first $10,000 of tuition and fees, for either undergraduate or graduate level classes. There is no lifetime limit on the credit, but only couples making less than $131,000 per year (or singles making $65,000) qualify. Unlike the AOTC, this deduction is per tax return, not per student.

So who is affected by the loss of the tuition and fees deduction? If you are paying for your student’s graduate-level courses and are making too much to qualify for the Lifetime Learning Credit, the tuition and fees deduction is generally the only means you have to reduce your tax bill.

Thankfully, there are many other tax benefits that help reduce the cost of education. There are breaks for employer-provided tuition assistance, deductions for student loan interest, tax-beneficial college savings options, and many other tax-planning alternatives.


Avoid These Common Tax Mistakes

There are nearly 1,000 different tax forms used by the IRS to report tax obligations. It’s no wonder the IRS faces thousands of tax returns with errors each year. Here are some of the most common:

Wrong names and Social Security numbers. Taxpayers regularly make mistakes by entering incorrect information for their spouses and dependents. If you recently married or divorced but haven’t yet changed your name with the Social Security Administration, you’ll need to file under your old name.

Errors in age and birthdate. Much of the tax code is based on age. Without the correct birthdate, your eligibility for tax benefits could be cast in doubt.

Incorrect bank account numbers. If you’re expecting a refund and want to have it direct deposited into your account, double-check your routing and account numbers. The IRS may catch most errors, but many are often missed. Once your refund is deposited in the wrong bank account, it’s very difficult to get it fixed.

Overlooking online donations. Many people forget about emailed receipts at tax time. Catch missing deductions by searching your email inbox for keywords such as “gift” or “donation” before you file.

Missing forms. Taxpayers can miss dividend, interest and brokerage forms (Form 1099s) they get from their banks and investment accounts. These potential missing forms now also include Form 1095, proof of health insurance. If a form is missing, it may cost you extra tax, penalties and interest.

Not signing the return. Don’t forget to sign your return! The IRS won’t accept an unsigned return, and many people forget this last step. An unsigned tax return is the same thing as not filing in the eyes of the IRS. You not only face penalties and fines, but your tax return is open for audit indefinitely.


Contractor or Employee? Knowing the difference is important

Is a worker an independent contractor or an employee? As an employer, getting this wrong could land you with an IRS audit and cost you plenty in many other ways. Here’s what you should know:

As the worker: If the worker is a contractor and not considered an employee, he/she must:

  • Pay self-employment taxes (Social Security and Medicare-related taxes).
  • Make estimated federal and state tax payments.
  • Handle his/her own benefits, insurance and bookkeeping.

As the employer: You must ensure your employee versus independent contractor determination is correct. Getting this wrong in the eyes of the IRS can lead to:

  • Payment and penalties related to Social Security and Medicare taxes.
  • Payment of possible overtime, including penalties for a contractor reclassified as an employee.
  • A legal obligation to pay for benefits.

When the IRS recharacterizes an independent contractor as an employee, they look at the business relationship between the employer and the worker. The IRS considers if the employer has the right to control the work (when, how and where the work is done) and the financial relationship (i.e., a contractor has a contract and customers, and invoices the company).

The more reasonable your basis for classification and the more consistently it is applied, the more likely an independent contractor classification will not be challenged.


This newsletter provides business, financial, and tax information to clients and friends of our firm. This general information should not be acted upon without first determining its application to your specific situation. For further details on any article, please contact us.