Monthly Archives

May 2018

JUNE 2018 NEWSLETTER

By | Newsletters | No Comments

Tax filing reminders

 

June 15 – The second installment of 2018 individual estimated tax is due.

 

It’s tax-planning time

Now is the ideal time to schedule a tax-planning session. Your tax return outcome is still fresh, and it’s early enough in the year to make corrective action to take advantage of the numerous new tax law changes taking place in 2018. Here’s a brief overview of some of the new tax issues that you need to plan for now.

#1 Income

Tax rates for both individuals and small businesses have changed substantially. Income tax deductions have also changed drastically, including a near doubling of the standard deduction and the elimination of most personal exemptions and miscellaneous itemized deductions.

  • You need to review your income tax withholding schedule and see where you fall in the new income tax bracket structure. Small adjustments here could save you hundreds.

#2 Bunching

Because of the changes to the deductions structure, using itemized deductions may entail bunching two or even three years of expenses into one tax year. Things like donations to charity and medical expenses that you may have spread across several years are now better bunched into a single year to maximize your tax savings.

  • If you typically take care of medical expenses or charitable donations at a regular time every year, stop until you have a new tax-efficient plan. If you wish to consider a bunching approach to itemizing, you’ll want to make that decision as early in the year as possible.

 

#3 SALT (State and local taxes)

There’s now a $10,000 combined total cap on deductions of state and local income, sales and property taxes, which is going to impact a lot of people, especially in high-tax states. This may be a big factor to account for if you’ve relied on this deduction in the past.

  • Get an analysis done to see how much larger your tax bill is going to be because of the cap on SALT taxes. There may not be much you can do about it other than changing where you live and own property, but you’ll need to have a clear picture of how it will impact your tax return in 2018.

#4 Mortgage interest changes

There are several new rules changing how mortgage interest is deducted. You can now no longer deduct the interest cost on mortgage indebtedness greater than $750,000. And you can no longer deduct interest on mortgage indebtedness that wasn’t spent directly on buying, building or substantially improving your home.

  • If you have used a home equity loan interest deduction, you’ll need to review how this will impact your itemized deductions.

These are just a few examples of things that you’ll need to review in the wake of the largest tax law changes in more than 30 years. Take some time this summer to make sure you have a plan in place.

The new small business family medical leave credit

There’s a new business tax credit that partially reimburses employers for providing paid family and medical leave for select employees. But small businesses should be informed before they try to use this new Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) tax break.

Basics of the new credit

Employers who provide at least two weeks of paid family and medical leave to employees who earn $72,000 a year or less can claim the FMLA credit to offset some of the cost of that paid leave. Some details:

  • The credit ranges between 12.5 percent to 25 percent of the cost of the leave, depending on whether it pays 50 percent salary to a full salary.
  • At least 50 percent of salary must be paid during the leave for employers to claim the credit.
  • Employees must have worked for at least a year.
  • Up to 12 weeks of leave are eligible for the credit.
  • The $72,000 salary cap in 2018 will rise with inflation every year.

This credit comes as the result of a law requiring companies with 50 or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks of leave every year. The leave is intended to give employees time to address serious health issues, adapt to new additions to their families from births or adoptions, and to handle family military deployments.

However, small businesses with less than 50 employees aren’t covered by the FMLA, though they can voluntarily adopt a leave policy as an employee benefit and claim the new credit.

Considerations for small business owners

If you’re a small business owner and you’re considering providing a leave benefit and claiming the FMLA credit, there are several items to think about:

  • The credit currently expires after the 2019 tax year. Congress’ intention is to test adoption of the credit and later make it permanent if it’s popular with employers.
  • It requires administrative setup. You’ll have to draft a leave policy separate from your policies for regular vacation, personal, medical and sick time off.
  • It may create an employee expectation. If you haven’t provided a paid leave benefit before but assess it’s worth it due to the credit, it may be a letdown if the credit expires and you no longer offer the benefit to your employees.

Given the uncertain nature of the life of this new credit, if you plan to offer this benefit to your employees, please be prepared to know what you will do if the credit is not extended past next year.

6 tax benefits of owning a home

If you own or are considering owning a home, you can take advantage of many tax benefits. Here are six of the most commonly used homeowner’s tax breaks:

  1. Mortgage interest deduction. You can deduct the interest you pay on your monthly mortgage bill when you itemize deductions on your tax return. This can be a huge benefit, especially in the early years of a mortgage. That’s because typically about 80 percent of your mortgage bill in your first year of home ownership on a 30-year mortgage goes toward interest. Principal payments don’t exceed interest until year 18 of your mortgage.

    Note: This benefit is capped to apply to $750,000 in indebtedness for new loans taken in 2018 ($1 million for loans taken out in 2017 or earlier).

  2. Property tax deductions. You can deduct up to $10,000 in combined state and local taxes. Called the SALT deduction, this can be used to deduct local property taxes, state taxes, local income taxes and sales taxes.
  3. Closing cost deductions. You can deduct the closing costs of a home purchase in the year you buy it. This includes things like mortgage discount points you pay upfront to lower your interest rate over the life of your loan. Because each point costs 1 percent of your total mortgage amount, the tax deduction on these costs can be substantial.
  4. Home improvement tax breaks. If you take out a second mortgage or what is commonly called a home equity mortgage and use it to buy, build or substantially improve your home, you can deduct the interest on that loan from your taxes. This feature is now grouped into your total mortgage indebtedness, which is capped at $750,000.

    Caution: Interest on home equity loans used for any other means (e.g., to pay down credit card debt or to purchase a car) is no longer deductible.

  5. Energy efficiency tax breaks. There are special tax breaks available for renewable energy and energy-efficiency upgrades to your house:
    1. The cost to buy and install solar, wind and geothermal equipment to your main residence or a second home can be deducted by 30 percent.
    2. Energy-efficient upgrades can be deducted by 100 percent for items such as central air conditioning, furnaces and water heaters, capped at a total of $500.
  1. Capital gains exclusion. You have the ability to exclude up to $250,000 of profits (or $500,000 if you are married) from the sale of your home, as long as it’s your primary residence and you’ve lived there at least two years.

Remember, if you’re thinking of buying a home, you may want to make a tax review part of your preparation. Because the tax deductions on mortgage interest and points can be so substantial in the early years of home ownership, they may factor in to how much you can afford.

MAY 2018 NEWSLETTER

By | Newsletters | No Comments

Update on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA)

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was passed by Congress in a hurry late last year, and the IRS and tax preparers have been working to digest some of the more thorny issues created by the tax overhaul. Here are the latest answers to some of the most common questions:

  1. Is home equity interest still deductible?

The short answer is: Not unless you’ve used the money to buy, build or substantially improve your home.

Before the TCJA, homeowners were able to take out a home equity loan and spend it on things other than their residence, such as to pay off credit card debt or to finance large consumer purchases. Under the old tax code, they could deduct interest on up to $100,000 of such home equity debt.

The TCJA effectively writes the concept of home equity indebtedness out of the tax code. Now you can only deduct interest on “acquisition indebtedness,” meaning a loan secured by a qualified residence that is used to buy, build or substantially improve it. If you have taken out a home equity loan before 2018 and used it for any other purpose, interest on it is no longer deductible.

  1. I’m a small business owner. How do I use the new 20 percent qualified business expense deduction?

Short answer: It’s complicated and you should get help.

Certain small businesses structured as sole proprietors, S corporations and partnerships can deduct up to 20 percent of their qualified business income. But that percentage can be reduced after your taxable income reaches $157,500 (or $315,000 as a married couple filing jointly).

The amount of the reduction depends partly on the amount of wages paid and property acquired by your business during the year. Another complicating factor is that certain service industries including health, law, consulting, athletics, financial services and accounting are treated slightly differently.

The IRS is expected to issue more clarification on how these rules are applied, such as when your business is a mix of one of those service industries and some other kind of business.

  1. What are the new rules about dependents and caregiving?

There are a few things that have changed regarding dependents and caregiving:

  • Deductions. Standard deductions are nearly doubled to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married joint filers. The code still says dependents can claim a standard deduction limited to the greater of $1,050 or $350 plus unearned income.
  • Kiddie Tax. Unearned income of children under age 19 (or 24 for full-time students) above a threshold of $2,100 is now taxed at a special rate for estates and trusts, rather than the parents’ top tax rate.
  • Family credit. If you have dependents who aren’t children under age 17 (and thus eligible for the Child Tax Credit), you can now claim $500 for each qualified dependent member of your household for whom you provide more than half of their financial support.
  • Medical expenses. You can now deduct medical expenses higher than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. You can claim this for medical expenses you pay for a relative even if they aren’t a dependent (i.e., they live outside your household) as long as you provide more than half of their financial support.

Stay tuned for more guidance from the IRS on the new tax laws, and reach out if you’d like to set up a tax planning consultation for your 2018 tax year.

How to handle a gap in health care coverage

Health care coverage gaps happen. Whether because of job loss or an extended sabbatical between gigs, you may find yourself without health care for a period. Here are some tax consequences you should know about, as well as tips to fix a coverage gap.

Coverage gap tax issues

You will have to pay a penalty in 2018 if you don’t have health care coverage for three consecutive months or more. Last year the annual penalty was equal to 2.5 percent of your household income, or $695 per adult (and $347.50 per child), whichever was higher. The 2018 amounts will be slightly higher to adjust for inflation.

Example: Susan lost her job-based health insurance on Dec. 31, 2016, and applied for a plan through her state’s insurance marketplace program on Feb. 15, 2017, which went into effect on March 1, 2017. Because she was without coverage for three months, she owes a fourth of the penalty on her 2017 tax return (three of 12 months uncovered, or 1/4 of the year).

While the penalty is still in place for tax years 2018 and earlier, it is eliminated starting in the 2019 tax year by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Three ways to handle a gap

There are three main ways to handle a gap in health care coverage:

  1. COBRA. If you’re in a coverage gap because you’ve left a job, you may be able to keep your previous employer’s health care coverage for up to 18 months through the federal COBRA program. One downside to this is that you’ll have to pay the full premium yourself (it’s typically split between you and your employer while you are employed), plus a potential administrative fee.
  2. Marketplace. You can enroll in an insurance marketplace health care plan through Healthcare.gov or your state’s portal. Typically you can only sign up for or change a Marketplace plan once a year, but you can qualify for a 60-day special enrollment period after you’ve had a major life event, such as losing a job, moving to a new home or getting married.
  3. Applying for an exemption. If you are without health care coverage for an extended period, you may still avoid paying the penalty by qualifying for an exemption. Valid exemptions include unaffordability (you must prove the cheapest health insurance plan costs more than 8.16 percent of your household income), income below the tax filing threshold (which was $10,400 for single filers below age 65 in 2017), ability to demonstrate certain financial hardships, or membership in certain tribal groups or religious associations.

Audit rates decline for 6th year in a row

IRS audit rates declined last year for the sixth year in a row and are at their lowest level since 2002, the agency reported. That’s good news for people who don’t like to be audited (which is everybody)!

  • Low statistics for audit examinations obscure the reality that you may still have to deal with issues caught by the IRS’s automated computer systems. These could be math errors, typos or missing forms. While not as daunting as a full audit, you need to keep your records handy to address any problems.
  • Average rates are declining, but audit chances are still high on both ends of the income range: no-income and high-income taxpayers.
  • No-income taxpayers are targets for audits because the IRS is cracking down on fraud in refundable credits designed to help those with low income, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC can refund back more than a low-income taxpayer paid in, so scammers attempt to collect these refund credits through fraudulent returns.
  • High-income taxpayers have increasingly been a target for IRS audits. Not only do wealthy taxpayers tend to have more complicated tax returns, but the vast majority of federal income tax revenue comes from wealthy taxpayers. Based on the statistics, the very highest income taxpayers can assume they will be audited about every six years.
  • Complicated returns are more likely to be audited. Returns with large charitable deductions, withdrawals from retirement accounts or education savings plans, and small business expenses and deductions are reportedly more likely to be the subject of an audit.