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Installment Sale – a Useful Tool to Minimize Taxes

Selling a property one has owned for a long period of time will frequently result in a large capital gain, and reporting all of the gain in one year will generally expose the gain to higher than normal capital gains rates and subject the gain to the 3.8% surtax on net investment income added by Obamacare.

Capital gains rates: Long-term capital gains can be taxed at 0%, 15%, or 20% depending upon the taxpayer’s regular tax bracket for the year. At the low end, if your regular tax bracket is 15% or less, the capital gains rate is zero. If your regular tax bracket is 25% to 35%, then the top capital gains rate is 15%. However, if your regular tax bracket is 39.6%, the capital gains rate is 20%. As you can see, larger gains push the taxpayer into higher capital gains rates.

Surtax on net investment income – Tax law treats capital gains (other than those derived from a trade or business) as investment income upon which higher-income taxpayers are subject to a 3.8% surtax on net investment income. A large gain generally pushes a taxpayer’s income over the threshold for this tax. For individuals, the surtax is 3.8% of the lesser of (1) the taxpayer’s net investment income or (2) the excess of the taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over the threshold amount for his or her filing status. The threshold amounts are:

  • $125,000 for married taxpayers filing separately.
  • $200,000 for taxpayers filing as single or head of household.
  • $250,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly or as a surviving spouse.

This is where an installment sale could fend off these additional taxes by spreading the income over multiple years.

Here is how it works. If you sell your property for a reasonable down payment and carry the note on the property yourself, you only pay income taxes on the portion of the down payment (and any other principal payments received in the year of sale) that represents taxable gain. You can then collect interest on the note balance at rates near what a bank charges. For a sale to qualify as an installment sale, at least one payment must be received after the year in which the sale occurs. Installment sales are most frequently used when the property that is sold is real estate, and cannot be used to report the sale of publicly traded stock or securities.

Example: You own a lot for which you originally paid $10,000. You paid it off some time ago, leaving you with no outstanding mortgage on the lot. You sell the property for $300,000 with 20% down and carry a $240,000 first trust deed at 3% interest using the installment sale method. No additional payment is received in the year of sale. The sales costs are $9,000.

Computation of Gain

Sale Price       $300,000

 Cost         <  $10,000>

 Sales costs   <   $9,000>

Net Profit      $281,000

Profit % = $281,000/$300,000 = 93.67%

Of your $60,000 down payment, $9,000 went to pay the selling costs, leaving you with $51,000 cash. The 20% down payment is 93.67% taxable, making $56,202 ($60,000 x .9367) taxable the first year. The amount of principal received and reported each subsequent year will be based upon the terms of the installment agreement. In addition, the interest payments on the note are taxable and also subject to the investment surtax. Thus in the example, by using the installment method the income for the year was reduced by $224,798 ($281,000 – $56,202). How that helps the taxpayer’s overall tax liability depends on the taxpayer’s other income and circumstances.  Here are some additional considerations when contemplating an installment sale. Existing mortgages – If the property you are considering selling is currently mortgaged, that mortgage would need to be paid off during the sale. Even if you do not have the financial resources available to pay off the existing loan, there might be ways to work out an installment sale by taking a secondary lending position or wrapping the existing loan into the new loan.Tying up your funds – Tying up your funds into a mortgage may not fit your long-term financial plans, even though you might receive a higher return on your investment and potentially avoid a higher tax rate and the net investment income surtax. Shorter periods can be obtained by establishing a note due date that is shorter than the amortization period. For example, the note may be amortized over 30 years, which produces a lower payment for the buyer but becomes due and payable in 5 years. However, a large lump sum payment at the end of the 5 years could cause the higher tax rate and surtax to apply to the seller in that year – so close attention needs to be paid to the tax consequences when structuring the installment agreement.Early payoff of the note – The buyer of your property may decide to pay off the installment note early or sell the property, in which case your installment plan would be defeated and the balance of the taxable portion would be taxable in the year the note is paid off early or the property is sold, unless the new buyer assumes the note.Tax law changes – Income from an installment sale is taxable under the laws in effect when the installment payments are received. If the tax laws are changed, the tax on the installment income could increase or decrease. Based on recent history, it would probably increase.Installment sales do not always work in all situations. To determine whether an installment sale will fit your particular needs and set of circumstances, please contact this office for assistance.

Local Lodging May Be Deductible

A business deduction is allowed for lodging when a taxpayer travels away from his or her “tax home.” A taxpayer’s tax home is generally the location (such as a city or metropolitan area) of a taxpayer’s main place of business (not necessarily the place where he/she lives).

The traveling away from his or her tax home condition creates problems for individuals attending conferences and training sessions within their tax homes that include extended-hour events that preclude traveling back home between the days of the events.

To alleviate this problem, IRS proposed regulations, upon which taxpayers may rely, permit certain non-away-from-home lodging expenses to be treated as deductible business expenses by employers and tax-free working condition fringe benefits or accountable-plan reimbursements to employees. Under the proposed regulations, local lodging expenses are treated as ordinary and necessary business expenses if all of these conditions are met:

(1) The lodging is necessary for the individual to participate fully in or be available for a bona fide business meeting, conference, training activity, or other business function.

(2) The lodging is for a period that does not exceed five calendar days and does not recur more frequently than once per calendar quarter.

(3) If the individual is an employee, his or her employer requires him or her to remain at the activity or function overnight.

(4) The lodging is not lavish or extravagant under the circumstances and does not provide any significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or benefit.

Example: A business conducts business-related sales training sessions at a hotel and conference center near its main office. The employer requires both its field and in-house sales force to attend the training and stay at the hotel overnight for the bona fide purpose of facilitating the training. If the company pays the lodging costs directly to the hotel, the stay is a working condition fringe benefit to all attendees (even to employees who live in the area who are not on travel status) and the company may deduct the cost as an ordinary and necessary business expense. If the employees pay for the lodging costs and are reimbursed by the company, the reimbursement is of the accountable plan variety and is tax-free to the employees and deductible by the company as an ordinary and necessary business expense.

Example: If Warren, a locally based, self-employed consultant, were required by a company to attend the sessions and stay at the hotel, he could deduct the expense if he paid for it himself or exclude the expense if he were reimbursed by the company after accounting for it in full for his costs.

Substantiation requirements – Generally lodging expenses are deductible only if they are substantiated in full (record of time, place, amount, and business purpose, plus paid bills or receipts). The expenses can’t be substantiated using the lodging component of the federal per-diem rate.

If you have questions about the deduction and substantiation of business-related lodging expenses, please give this office a call.

Family Home Loan Interest May Not Be Deductible

It is not uncommon for individuals to loan money to relatives to help them buy a home. In those situations, it is also not uncommon for a loan to be undocumented or documented with an unsecured note, and the unintended result that the homebuyer can’t claim a tax deduction for the interest paid to their helpful relative.

The tax code describes qualified residence interest as interest paid or accrued during the tax year on acquisition indebtedness or home equity indebtedness with respect to any qualified residence of the taxpayer. It also provides that the term “acquisition indebtedness” means any indebtedness that is incurred in acquiring, constructing, or substantially improving any qualified residence of the taxpayer, and is secured by such residence. There are also limits on the amount of debt and number of qualified residences that a taxpayer may have for purposes of claiming a home mortgage interest tax deduction, but those details are not covered in this article, which focuses on the requirement that the debt be secured.

Secured debt means a debt that is on the security of any instrument (such as a mortgage, deed of trust, or land contract):

(i) that makes the interest of the debtor in the qualified residence-specific security of the payment of the debt,

(ii) under which, in the event of default, the residence could be subjected to the satisfaction of the debt with the same priority as a mortgage or deed of trust in the jurisdiction in which the property is situated, and

(iii) that is recorded, where permitted, or is otherwise perfected in accordance with applicable state law.

In other words, the home is put up as collateral to protect the interest of the lender.

Thus, interest paid on undocumented loans, or documented but unsecured notes, is not deductible by the borrower but is fully taxable to the lending individual. The IRS is always skeptical of family transactions. Don’t get trapped in this type of situation. Take the time to have a note drawn up and recorded or perfected in accordance with state law.

If you have questions related to this situation or other issues related to the deductibility of home mortgage interest, please give this office a call.

Tax Break for Sales of Inherited Homes

People who inherit property are often concerned about the taxes they will owe on any gain from that property’s sale. After all, the property may have been purchased years ago at a low cost by a deceased relative but may now have vastly appreciated in value. The usual question is: “Won’t the taxes at sale be horrendous?”

Clients are usually pleasantly surprised by the answer—that special rules apply to figuring the tax on the sale of any inherited property. Instead of having to start with the decedent’s original purchase price to determine gain or loss, the law allows taxpayers to use the value at the date of the decedent’s death as a starting point (sometimes an alternate date is chosen). This often means that the selling price and the inherited basis of the property are practically identical, and there is little, if any, gain to report. In fact, the computation frequently results in a loss, particularly when it comes to real property on which large selling expenses (realtor commissions, etc.) must be paid.

This also highlights the importance of having a certified appraisal of the home to establish the home’s tax basis. If an estate tax return or probate is required, a certified appraisal will be completed as part of those processes. If not, one must be obtained to establish the basis. It is generally not acceptable just to refer to a real estate agent’s estimation of value or comparable sale prices if the IRS questions the date of death value. The few hundred dollars it may cost for a certified appraisal will be worth it if the IRS asks for proof of the basis.

Another issue is whether a loss on an inherited home is deductible. Normally, losses on the sale of personal use property such as one’s home are not deductible. However, unless the beneficiary is living in the home, the home becomes investment property in the hands of the beneficiary, and a loss is deductible but subject to a $3,000 ($1,500 if married and filing separately) per year limitation for all capital losses with any unused losses carried forward to a future year.

In some cases, courts have allowed deductions for losses on an inherited home if the beneficiary also lives in the home. In order to deduct such a loss, a beneficiary must try to sell or rent the property immediately following the decedent’s death. In one case, where a beneficiary was also living in the house with the decedent at the time of death, loss on a sale was still deductible, when the heir moved out of the home within a “reasonable time” and immediately attempted to sell or rent it.

This treatment could change in the future, however. The President’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Proposal includes a proposal that would eliminate any step up in basis at the time of death and would require payment of capital gains tax on the increase in the value of the home at the time it is inherited.

If you have questions related to inheritances or home sales, please give this office a call.

Can’t Pay Your Taxes by the April Due Date?

The vast majority of Americans get a tax refund from the IRS each spring, but what if you are one of those who end ends up owing?

The IRS encourages you to pay the full amount of your tax liability on time by imposing significant penalties and interest on late payments if you don’t. So if you are unable to pay the tax you owe, it is generally in your best interest to make other arrangements to obtain the funds for paying your taxes rather than be subjected to the government’s penalties and interest. Here are a few options to consider.

  • Family Loan Obtaining a loan from a relative or friend may be the best bet because this type of loan is generally the least costly in terms of interest.
  • Credit Card Another option is to pay by credit card with one of the service providers that work with the IRS. However, since the IRS will not pay the credit card discount fee, you will have to pay it and pay the higher credit card interest rates.
  • Installment Agreement If you owe the IRS $50,000 or less, you may qualify for a streamlined installment agreement where you can make monthly payments for up to six years. You will still be subject to the late payment penalty, but it will be reduced by half. Interest will also be charged at the current rate, and there is a user fee to set up the payment plan. In making the agreement, a taxpayer agrees to keep all future years’ tax obligations current. If the taxpayer does not make payments on time or has an outstanding past due amount in a future year, they will be in default of their agreement and the IRS has the option of taking enforcement actions to collect the entire amount owed. Taxpayers seeking installment agreements exceeding $50,000 will need to validate their financial condition and need for an installment agreement by providing the IRS with a Collection Information Statement (financial statements). Taxpayers may also pay down their balance due to $50,000 or less to take advantage of the streamlined option.
  • Tap a Retirement Account This is possibly the worst option for obtaining funds to pay your taxes because you are jeopardizing your retirement and the distributions are generally taxable at your highest bracket, which adds more taxes to your existing problem. In addition, if you are under age
    59½, the withdrawal is also subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty that compounds the problem even further.

Whatever you decide, don’t just ignore your tax liability because that is the worst thing you can do. Please call this office for assistance.

Tax Filing Deadline Rapidly Approaching

Just a reminder to those who have not yet filed their 2014 tax return that April 15, 2015 is the due date to either file your return and pay any taxes owed, or file for the automatic six-month extension and pay the tax you estimate to be due. 

In addition, the April 15, 2015 deadline also applies to the following:

  • Tax year 2014 balance-due  payments – Taxpayers that are filing extensions are cautioned that the filing extension is an extension to file, NOT an extension to pay a balance due.  Late payment penalties and interest will be assessed on  any balance due, even for returns on extension.  Taxpayers anticipating a balance due will need to estimate this amount and includetheir payment with the extension request.
  • Tax year 2014 contributions to a Roth or traditional IRA – April 15 is the last day contributions for  2014 can be made to either  a Roth or traditional IRA, even if an extension is filed.
  • Individual estimated tax  payments for the first quarter of 2015 – Taxpayers, especially those  who have filed for an extension, are cautioned that the first installment  of the 2015 estimated taxes  are due on April 15.  If you are on extension and anticipate a refund, all or a portion of the refund can be allocated to this quarter’s  payment on the final return when it is filed at a later date. If the refund won’t be enough to fully cover the April 15 installment, you may need to make a payment with the April 15 voucher. Please call this office      for any questions.
  • Individual refund claims  for tax year 2011 – The regular three-year statute of limitations  expires on April 15 for the 2011 tax return.  Thus, no refund will be granted for a 2011 original or amended return that is filed after April 15.Caution: The statute does not apply to balances due for unfiled 2011  returns.

If this office is holding up the completion of your returns because of missing information, please forward that information as quickly as possible in order to meet the April 15 deadline.  Keep in mind that the last week of tax season is very hectic, and your returns may not be completed if you wait until the last minute.  If it is apparent that the information will not be available in time for the April 15 deadline, then let the office know right away so that an extension request, and 2015 estimated tax vouchers if needed, may be prepared.

If your returns have not yet been completed, please call right away so that we can schedule an appointment and/or file an extension if necessary.