KKAJ Blog Posts in Tax Information
Several significant tax developments happened last year that may affect federal income tax returns that individual and business taxpayers file in 2017. Here's a quick look at 10 key changes that you should be aware of during this tax season.
1. Stand-Alone HRAs
The IRS, taxpayers and tax preparers share a common enemy: identity thieves. We all have a part to play in the fight against tax-related identity theft. Your role starts by learning the mechanics and warning signs. From there, taxpayers can take proactive steps to protect their data online and at home.
Understand How Tax Fraud Happens
Dishonest individuals may steal taxpayers' personal and financial information from sources outside the IRS, such as social media accounts where people tend to share too many details or bogus phishing emails that appear to come from the IRS or a bank. Once they obtain an unsuspecting taxpayer's data, thieves may use it to file fraudulent federal and state income tax returns, claiming significant refunds.
Ten Potential Mistakes to Avoid in Estate Planning
Sometimes people attempt to make an estate plan without consulting legal and financial professionals.
7 Tax-Savvy Ways to Give to Charity
1. Monetary Contributions
2. Gifts of Property
3. Quid Pro Quo Contributions
4. Volunteer Services
5. Donor-Advised Funds
6. Booster Clubs
7. Conservation Easements
Considering a Charitable Donation?
Highlights of the Giving USA Report
For years, people have questioned...
How Soon Can I Start Collecting Retirement Benefits?
What Is My FRA?
How and When Do I Apply for Social Security Retirement Benefits?
What Happens if I Receive Social Security Retirement Benefits While Still Working?
Can I Collect More Benefits if I Retire After My FRA?
Can I Manage Retirement Benefits for an Incapacitated Person?
Do I Qualify for Social Security Survivors Benefits?
Are Social Security Benefits Subject to Income Tax?
Highlights of New Trustees Report
The 2016 "Dirty Dozen"
This holiday season, taxpayers are receiving a "gift" from Washington, D.C. It's the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 or, simply, the PATH Act. It does more than just extend expired tax provisions for another year. The bipartisan deal makes about one-third of these tax provisions permanent. Many others have been extended for periods ranging from two to five years.
- For 2014, the credit percentage increased from 35 percent to 50 percent of employer-paid premiums. For tax-exempt employers, the percentage increased from 25 percent to 35 percent.
- Small businesses may claim the credit for only two consecutive taxable years beginning in tax year 2014 and beyond.
- For 2014, the credit is phased out beginning when average wages equal $25,400 and is fully phased out when average wages exceed $50,800. The average wage phase-out is adjusted annually for inflation.
- Generally, small businesses are required to purchase a Qualified Health Plan from a Small Business Health Options Program Marketplace to be eligible to claim the credit. Transition relief from this requirement is available to certain small employers.
- Consistently treat all workers performing similar tasks as either independent contractors or employees. If contractors must wear ID badges or use company vehicles, make sure their contracts explain why. For example, the policy was instituted after customers expressed safety concerns about deliveries in unmarked cars.
- Give outside workers considerable discretion about how and when they perform their duties. In general, independent contractors must control the way they get the job done.
- Send each contractor a Form 1099 showing non-employee income if you pay $600 or more in a calendar year.
- Don't supply freelancers with services you give employees. Some companies have run into trouble with the IRS for providing contractors with office space, computers, cars and other perks. Independents generally furnish their own tools and materials.
So what if you do rehire some laid-off employees as independent contractors? It's difficult -- but still possible -- to classify them as contractors. But don't let freelancers work in your office and give them new titles. For example, your retained employees might be staff representatives while your new workers are outside service agents.
There's nothing illegal about rehiring former workers as freelancers. You just have to make sure you structure the deals properly so you don't have the IRS breathing down your neck.
Selling losing investments held in taxable brokerage firm accounts can lower your 2014 tax bill, because you can deduct the resulting capital losses against this year's capital gains. If your losses exceed your gains, you will have a net capital loss. You can deduct up to $3,000 of net capital loss (or $1,500 if you are married and file separately) against ordinary income, including your salary, self-employment, alimony or interest income. Any excess net capital loss is carried forward to future years and puts you in position for tax savings in 2015 and beyond.
6. Gift Appreciated Assets to Family Members in Lower Tax Brackets
If you have appreciated stock or mutual fund shares (currently worth more than you paid for them) that you've owned for over a year, consider donating them to IRS-approved charities. You can generally claim an itemized charitable deduction for the full market value at the time of the donation and avoid any capital gains tax hit.
9. Sell Under-Performing Stock and Donate Proceeds to a Charity
If you've owned stocks that are worth less than you paid for them, don't donate them directly to a charity. Instead, sell the stock, book the resulting capital loss and give away the cash proceeds to a charity. That way, you can generally write off the full amount of the cash donation while keeping the tax-saving capital loss for yourself. Only taxpayers who itemize deductions will gain any tax-saving benefit from charitable donations, however.
10. Consult with your Tax Pro
These tax-saving tips are generally geared toward deferring income and accelerating deductions to minimize 2014 taxes. This approach may also help minimize or avoid phaseouts of various tax breaks based on a taxpayer's AGI (or MAGI). As always, however, year end tax planning doesn't occur in a vacuum. It must take into account each taxpayer's particular situation and planning goals. While most taxpayers will come out ahead by following the traditional approach of lowering the current year's taxable income, others with special circumstances may do better by accelerating income and deferring deductions.
|A weight-loss program undertaken at a physician's direction to treat obesity or a condition such as heart disease.||A weight-loss program to maintain your appearance. Meal replacements, diet foods and supplements that are substitutes for the food that you would normally consume.|
|Treatment at a drug or alcohol clinic. Smoking-cessation program and prescribed drugs for nicotine withdrawal.||Trips your doctor recommends to rest or improve your morale|
|Dentures, hearing aids and orthopedic shoes.||Household help, even if recommended by a doctor.|
|Admission and transportation to a medical conference if the conference concerns the chronic illness of you, your spouse, or a dependent. (Meals and lodging are not deductible.)||The collection and storage of DNA, unless you can show how DNA will be used for diagnostic testing. (IRS Private Letter Ruling 200140017).|
|Lamaze classes for a mother-to-be.||Maternity clothes.|
|Teeth cleaning and orthodontia||Teeth bleaching and toothpaste|
|A wig purchased on the advice of a physician for the mental health of a patient bald from disease.||Hair transplants|
|Contact lenses and peripheral materials as saline solution and enzyme cleaner.||Retin-A for wrinkles|
|Nursing services at home or a care facility, including giving medication, changing dressings, bathing and grooming.||Nursing services for a normal, healthy baby. (But you might be able to take a credit for child-care expenses.)|
What triggers an IRS tax audit? While the IRS isn't about to publish a list, there are a number of items that are known to raise the IRS's interest in a return.
What are your chances of being audited? For individuals, it depends on your income. In fiscal year 2013, returns reporting income of under $200,000 stood a 0.88 percent chance of an audit. Those with incomes of $200,000 and more had a 3.26 percent chance. And if your income was $1 million or more, you had a 10.85 percent chance. While audit rates were generally down in 2013 from the previous couple of years, they're still much higher than in earlier years.
In addition to income, it's the entries onyour return that are likely to flag it. What items are likely to trigger a letter from the IRS? Here's a list of items some tax preparers believe trigger an audit. Some items only apply to individuals or individuals who file a Schedule C, while others apply to both individuals and businesses. In some cases, items are likely to only generate a letter from the IRS requesting documentation for the item.
1. Outsized charitable contributions.The IRS publishes data on the average size of charitable contributions for various income levels. If you take a deduction for an amount that is materially larger than the averages, you could get a letter.
2. Large property contributions.Significant charitable contributions of property require an appraisal and certain return attachments. Appraisals are often challenged by the IRS.
3. Unmatched alimony. If you take a deduction for $24,000 of alimony, your ex-spouse should be reporting $24,000 of income.
4. High mortgage interest. The maximum amount of qualified home indebtedness is $1.1 million (including home equity loan). A mortgage interest deduction that's in excess of a certain percentage of the debt limit could indicate an excessive deduction.
5. Unreported income. Failure to report gambling winnings, interest and dividends, non-employee compensation (1099-MISC), K-1 items, etc. may just trigger a letter and bill from the IRS -- or it could generate an audit.
6. Gambling losses. You're allowed to deduct losses on Schedule A up to the amount of your winnings. But the IRS knows that many taxpayers don't keep the required records.
7. Miscellaneous itemized deductions. Breaking the 2 percent of adjusted gross income threshold is difficult, so large miscellaneous itemized deductions may perk the interest of the IRS.
8. Foreign bank accounts. Checking the box indicating that you have a foreign bank account on Schedule B could increase your chances of an audit. But not checking the box, when you should, could too. The IRS continues to get information on many foreign bank accounts.
9. Unreimbursed employee business expenses. These expenses may be deductible, but substantial amounts are likely to raise questions because they are frequently reimbursed by an employer. If the expenses involve travel and entertainment or auto usage, your chances of hearing from the IRS may increase further.
10. Cash transactions. Banks and merchants are required to report cash transactions in excess of $10,000. If you have a business, the IRS may want to know where you got cash.
11. Rental losses of a real estate professional. A qualifying individual can deduct rental losses in excess of the usual $25,000 limit. Meeting the required time involved in real estate activities and substantiating it isn't easy. Checking the box on Schedule E could increase your audit chances.
12. Casualty losses. This can be a complicated area where appraisals and other outside information may be required.
13. Bad debt losses. Again, this is often a complex area. Many taxpayers lose on this issue because they can't show a bona fide debt existed or that a loss occurred in an earlier or later year.
14. Home office. If you use a portion of your home exclusively for your business, you can deduct the expenses and depreciation associated with the space. But you've got to show the business connection and that the space was used exclusively for business. Both can be challenged by the IRS. The tax agency can also question the expenses involved in a home office. There's plenty of opportunity for an IRS auditor to make adjustments. In general, the higher the percentage of the home claimed for business, the greater your audit chances.
15. Day-trading losses. Claiming to be a day trader and taking losses on Schedule C is a red flag.
16. Net operating loss. If your business (sole proprietorship, S corporation, partnership) has losses you may have an NOL (net operating loss) that can be carried back or forward to offset income in other years. You may be asked to substantiate the loss if you claim a refund for an earlier year or on a later return where the NOL is used.
17. Rental losses. These could be challenged if there's no revenue from the property.
18. Hobby losses. Multi-year losses on Schedule C (or a pass-through entity such as an S corporation) may be scrutinized, particularly if the business is listed as one that has elements of personal pleasure such as horse breeding, photography or auto racing. Your audit chances increase if the losses offset substantial other income on the return.
If you file a business return such as a Schedule C, S corporation or LLC, there are other triggers. Some of them also apply to rental properties.
19. Travel and entertainment. Because of the recordkeeping requirements, and the fact that some deductions can be questionable, this is always a ripe area for the IRS.
20. Auto usage. Again, the IRS is well aware that many taxpayers fail to keep the required records, making it a fruitful area for an IRS adjustment during an audit.
21. Repairs and maintenance. What property owners believe is a repair and what the tax law considers a repair is often different. The IRS may require you to capitalize and depreciate expenses that you deducted.
22. Zero officer salaries for an S corporation. If an S corporation is active, showing no salary for officers is a red flag.
What should you do? It doesn't make sense to not take a deduction you're entitled to, such as for a home office. Just make sure you're entitled to the deduction and have the required records and tax law justification to back it up. For example, if you're not sure if the part business/part personal trip is deductible, give your tax adviser the facts and get a professional opinion.
In terms of an IRS audit, larger businesses may have to undergo detailed examinations involving many issues, but for individual taxpayers and Schedule C filers, audits may be limited to selected items -- unless those items indicate problems.
Many of you may have heard in recent news reports that because of the late passage of the law to avoid the “fiscal cliff” the Internal Revenue Service will not be able to process tax returns until after January 30, 2013. We want you to be assured that even though the IRS will not be working, KKAJ is. As soon as we have your information (tax organizer), we will prepare your returns. By getting your information in early, you will know your refund amount or amount due sooner and ensure that your tax returns are ready to be filed as soon as the IRS will accept them.
Because of the law changes, tax compliance will be more complicated than ever. It is imperative that you do not delay in getting your information to us.
The following is a summary of the provisions included in Congress’ “Fiscal Cliff” legislation passed on New Year’s Day, which the President is expected to sign.
Tax rates beginning January 1, 2013
A top rate of 39.6% (up from 35%) will be imposed on individuals making more than $400,000 a year, $425,000 for head of household, and $450,000 for married filing joint.
2% Social Security reduction gone
AMT permanently patched
A permanent AMT patch, adjusted for inflation, will be made retroactive to 2012.
Dividends and capital gains
The maximum capital gains tax will rise from 15% to 20% for individuals taxed at the 39.6% rates (those making $400,000, $425,000, or $450,000 depending on filing status, as noted above).
Itemized deduction and personal exemption phase-outs
The Pease itemized deduction phase-out is reinstated, and personal exemption phase-out will be reinstated, but with different AGI starting thresholds (adjusted for inflation): $300,000 for married filing joint, $275,000 for head of household, and $250,000 for single.
The estate tax regime will continue to provide an inflation-adjusted $5 million exemption (effectively $10 million for married couples) but will be applied at a higher 40% rate (up from 35% in 2012).
Personal tax credits
The $1,000 Child Tax Credit, the enhanced Earned Income Tax Credit, and the enhanced American Opportunity Tax Credit will all be extended through 2017.
Other personal deductions and exclusions
The following deductions and exclusions are extended through 2013:
- Discharge of qualified principal residence exclusion;
- $250 above-the-line teacher deduction;
- Mortgage insurance premiums treated as residence interest;
- Deduction for state and local taxes;
- Above-the-line deduction for tuition; and
- IRA-to-charity exclusion (plus special provisions allowing transfers made in January 2013 to be treated as made in 2012).
- The Research Credit and the production tax credits, among others, will be extended through 2013;
- 15-year depreciation and §179 expensing allowed on qualified real property through 2013;
- Work Opportunity Credit extended through 2013;
- Bonus depreciation extended through 2013; and
- The §179 deduction limitation is $500,000 for 2012 and 2013.
KKAJ will keep you informed as new information becomes available. As always, if you wish to discuss your specific situation, contact the KKAJ tax and accounting professionals at (818) 848-5585 or (661) 705-4222.