Author Archives: CN Staff

Don’t Overlook Tax Deductions for Home Ownership

Whether you already own a home or are considering buying one, you should be aware of the many tax benefits that go along with home ownership. There are plenty of reasons for owning a home, including the potential for capital appreciation and the fact that many of the costs are tax deductible, while rent is generally not.

Mortgage Interest Deduction – Although it may seem that you will never get that mortgage paid off, keep in mind that unmarried taxpayers and married couples can deduct, as an itemized deduction, the interest on up to $1 million of acquisition debt plus $100,000 of equity debt on their first and second homes, provided the loans are secured by the homes. A married taxpayer filing separately is limited to deducting the interest on $500,000 of acquisition debt and $50,000 of equity debt.

Home Improvement Loan Interest Deduction – If you took out a loan secured by your home to make improvements on your main or a second home, that mortgage is treated the same as home acquisition debt, and the interest you pay on that loan is deductible as acquisition debt, so long as the combined total acquisition debt of the two homes does not exceed the $1 million limit on acquisition debt. Even if it does exceed the $1 million limit, the excess interest on up to the $100,000 equity debt limit may still be deductible. However, if you used the loan money to make repairs rather than improvements, the debt would only qualify as equity debt.

Equity Debt – If you used the equity in your home to borrow money to buy a car, take a vacation, or for another use, interest paid on that debt is deductible up to the $100,000 equity debt limit. That is why it is sometimes better to finance large purchases with a deductible home equity loan rather than a non-deductible consumer loan.

Property Tax Deduction – If you itemize your deductions, you can deduct the property taxes you paid during the year on your home. However, be careful; generally property taxes are billed on a fiscal year basis, so the amount billed may cover parts of two years. You can only deduct what you actually paid during the year. If you have an impound account (sometimes called an escrow account) with your mortgage lender, the amount paid will be included on the lender’s annual statement. Also be aware that if you are subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT), a deduction for taxes is not allowed when computing the AMT.

CAUTION: Neither home equity debt interest nor property taxes are deductible for alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes, and their deduction for regular tax may create an AMT add-on tax.  

Private Mortgage Insurance Premiums – Generally when homebuyers are unable to make a 20% down payment when purchasing a home, the lender will require them to obtain private mortgage insurance (PMI) and the insurance premiums that go along with it. To be deductible, the insurance contract must have been issued after December 31, 2006. Those premiums are deductible if incurred for the purchase of your first or second home, and they are not limited by the $1 million limitation on home acquisition debt.

The deductible amount of the premiums phases out ratably by 10% for each $1,000 by which the taxpayer’s AGI exceeds $100,000 (10% for each $500 by which a married separate taxpayer’s AGI exceeds $50,000). If AGI is over $109,000 ($54,500 married separate), the deduction is totally phased out.

Congress failed to extend this deduction, and thus 2016 is the last year for it. If you are stuck with a PMI and your equity in your property has grown to be greater than 20% (you’ve paid down the mortgage balance to 80% of the home’s original appraised value), you may want to contact your lender about removing the PMI, refinancing to get rid of it, or obtaining an updated appraisal. When the balance drops to 78%, the mortgage servicer is required to eliminate PMI. (These rules generally don’t apply if your loan is guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).)

Solar Energy Credits – Through 2021, taxpayers can get a tax credit on their federal tax return for purchasing and installing solar electric or solar water heating systems. The credit is 30% of the cost through 2019, at which time it begins to phase out and the credit is reduced to 26% for 2020 and 22% for the final year of 2021.
The credit is nonrefundable, which means it can only be used to offset a taxpayer’s current tax liability, but any excess can be carried forward to offset tax through 2021. Both the solar electric and the solar water systems qualify for credit if installed on a taxpayer’s primary and secondary residences. However, no credit is allowed for heating water for hot tubs and swimming pools.

Impairment-Related Home Expenses – If you, your spouse or a dependent living in your home has a physical handicap and you make modifications to the home or install special equipment to alleviate that disability, those costs may be deductible as a medical expense. The portion of the cost of permanent improvements that increases the value of the home is not deductible, but the difference can be included as a medical expense. However, home modifications made to accommodate a home for an individual’s handicap generally do not increase the value of the home and can be included in full with your medical deductions. These improvements include, but are not limited to, the following items:
• Constructing entrance or exit ramps for the home,
• Widening doorways at entrances or exits to the home,
• Adding handrails, support bars and grab bars,
• Lowering or modifying kitchen cabinets and equipment, and
• Installing porch and stair lifts.

Points Deduction – Points are a form of prepaid interest; one point is equal to 1% of a loan amount. Points are often labeled “loan origination fees,” “premium charges,” etc. At times, certain loan charges may be called points but are really amounts lenders charge for setting up a loan. Such “service charge points” aren’t normally deductible.

Generally, prepaid interest must be amortized (deducted) over the life of a loan; however, tax law carved out a special rule that allows points incurred for purchase of a primary residence to be fully deducted on the return for the year in which they are paid. This special rule also applies to loan points incurred for home improvement loans.

Home Office Deduction – If you are self-employed, you may qualify for a deduction for the business use of your home, commonly known as the home office deduction. You may also qualify if you are an employee and the use of the home is for the convenience of the employer. In either case the portion of the home used for business qualifies for the deduction only if it is used exclusively for business.

There are two methods that can be used to determine the deduction: (1) the actual expense method, where you prorate the home expenses such as utilities, insurance, maintenance, interest, taxes and depreciation, or (2) a simplified deduction, which is $5 per square foot of office space, with a maximum square footage of 300. If the latter method is used, mortgage interest and real property tax deductions may be claimed as usual as part of itemized deductions, but a proration of other home-related expenses isn’t deductible. In either case, the deduction is limited to the income from the business activity.

If you have questions about tax issues related to home ownership or if you are considering purchasing a home and want to understand how the home ownership will impact your taxes, please give this office a call.

Tax Benefits for Parents

If you are a parent, whether single, married or divorced, there are a significant number of tax benefits available to you, including deductions, credits, filing status and exemptions that can help put a dent in your tax liability.

Exemptions – Regardless of filing status, you receive a $4,050 income exemption for each of your qualifying children whom you claim as a dependent on your tax return. In the case of divorced or separated parents, the exemption is allowed to the custodial parent unless the custodial parent releases the exemption to the non-custodial parent. If you are the custodial parent, you can release the exemption on a year-by-year basis or for multiple years if you wish to do so. However, being unable to foresee the future means it is generally wiser to release the exemption annually. The exemption amount gradually decreases to zero once a certain income threshold is reached; this phase out generally applies to higher income taxpayers.

Child Tax Credit – If you have dependent children, you are also entitled to a nonrefundable tax credit of $1,000 for each child under the age of 17 at the close of the year. The term “nonrefundable” means the credit can only be used to offset any tax liability you may have, and the balance of the credit is lost. If you are not filing jointly with the child’s other parent and have released the exemption to that parent, then you will not qualify for the child tax credit for that child. In addition, this credit also phases out for higher income taxpayers. For lower income parents, a portion of the child tax credit, which is normally nonrefundable, can become refundable.

Earned Income Tax Credit – The earned income credit benefits lower income parents based upon your earned income, filing status (either married filing jointly or unmarried) and the number of qualifying children you have up to three. The credit for 2017 can be as much as $6,318, and better yet, the amount not used to offset your tax liability is fully refundable. This credit is phased out for higher income filers, and those with investment income of more than $3,450 for 2017 aren’t eligible.

Head of Household Filing Status – The tax code provides a special filing status – head of household – for unmarried and separated taxpayers. The benefit of head of household filing status is that it provides lower tax rates and a higher standard deduction than the single status ($9,350 as opposed to $6,350 for a single individual in 2017). If you are an unmarried parent and you pay more than one-half the cost of the household for yourself and your child, you qualify for this filing status. Even if you are married, if you lived apart from your spouse the last six months of the year and pay more than one-half the cost of the household for yourself and your child, you qualify for this filing status.

Childcare – Many parents who work or are looking for work must arrange for care of their children. If this is your situation, and your children requiring care are under 13 years of age, you may qualify for a nonrefundable tax credit that can reduce your federal income taxes.

The childcare credit is an income-based percentage of up to $3,000 of qualifying care expenses for one child and up to $6,000 of qualifying care expenses for two or more children. The allowable expenses are also limited to your earned income, and if you are married, both you and your spouse must work and the limit is based upon the earned income of the spouse with the lower earnings. The credit percentages range from a maximum of 35% if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is $15,000 or less to 20% for an AGI of over $43,000.

If your employer provides dependent care benefits under a qualified plan that pays your child care provider either directly or by reimbursing you for the expenses, or your employer provides a day care facility, you may be able to exclude these benefits from your income. Of course, the same expenses aren’t eligible for both tax-free income and the child care credit.

Education Savings Plans – The tax code provides two plans to save for your children’s future education. The first is the Coverdell Education Savings Account, which allows non-deductible contributions of up to $2,000 per year. The earnings on these accounts are tax-free provided the amounts withdrawn from the accounts are used to pay qualified expenses for kindergarten and above. Coverdell contributions will phase out for higher income taxpayers beginning at an AGI of $190,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly and half that amount for other taxpayers.

A second plan, called a Qualified Tuition Plan (sometimes referred to as a Sec 529 plan), allows individuals to gift large sums of money for a family member’s college education while continuing to maintain control of the funds. The earnings from these accounts grow tax-deferred and are tax-free if used to pay for college tuition and related expenses.
Contributions to these plans are not limited to the child’s parents and can be made by virtually anyone, although if not the parents, then typically it is the grandparents who fund the accounts.

Education Credits – If you are a parent with a child or children in college, don’t overlook the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). It provides a tax credit equal to 100% of the first $2,000 of qualified tuition and related expenses and 25% of the next $2,000 for each child who was enrolled at least half time. Better yet, 40% of the credit is refundable. This credit is good for the first four years of post-secondary education.

There is a second education credit called the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) that provides a nonrefundable tax credit equal to 20% of up to $10,000 of qualified tuition and related expenses. Unlike the AOTC, which is allowed per student, the LLC is calculated on a per-family basis with a maximum credit of $2,000 but is not limited to the first four years of post-secondary education.

You don’t even have to pay the expenses to get the credits. The credits are allowed to the person claiming the exemption for the child. So if the child’s grandparent, uncle, aunt or even an ex-spouse or the child’s other parent pays the tuition, you still get the credit as long you claim the child as your dependent.

Student Loan Interest – Generally, personal interest you pay, other than certain mortgage interest, isn’t deductible on your tax return. However, there is a special deduction, up to $2,500 per year, allowed for interest paid on a student loan (also known as an education loan) used for higher education. You don’t have to itemize deductions to take advantage of this deduction, but you must have paid the interest on a loan taken out for your own or your spouse’s education or that of a dependent. So if you were legally obligated to pay the loan for one of your children who was your dependent when the loan was taken out, you may be able to claim this deduction, even if the child is no longer your dependent.

The student must have been enrolled at least half-time, and the loan must have been taken out solely to pay qualified higher education expenses. The lender can’t be a related person. This deduction phases out if your AGI is more than $65,000 ($130,000 if filing a joint return) and isn’t allowed if you use the married filing separate status.

Child’s Medical Expenses – If you itemize deductions, the unreimbursed medical expenses you pay for your dependents are counted for figuring your total medical expenses. This is true for both parents even if they do not file together as long as one of them is able to claim the child as a dependent.

If you have questions related to any of these tax benefits, please give this office a call.

Want To Make An IRA Contribution For Last Year? You Still Have Time.

If you wish to make an IRA contribution for 2016, you still have time. Contributions can be made up to the unextended due date of your tax return, which for 2016 is April 18, 2017.

There are several benefits to making an IRA contribution, the most important one being that you are putting money aside for your future retirement. The following is a rundown of the rules and tax tips relating to making IRA contributions and the potential tax benefits.

Age Rules – You must be under age 70 ½ at the end of the tax year to contribute to a traditional IRA. There is no age limit t0 contribute to a Roth IRA.

Compensation Rules – You must have taxable compensation to contribute to an IRA. This includes income from wages and salaries and net self-employment income. It also includes tips, commissions, bonuses and alimony. If you are married and file a joint tax return, only one spouse needs to have compensation in most cases.

When to Contribute – You can contribute to an IRA at any time during the year. For the contribution to count for 2016, you must contribute by the due date of your tax return. This does not include extensions. This means most people must contribute by April 18, 2017. If you contribute between January 1 and April 18 of 2017 for 2016, make sure your plan sponsor designates it as a 2016 contribution.

Contribution Limits – In general, the most you can contribute to your IRA for 2016 is the smaller of either your taxable compensation for the year or $5,500. If you were age 50 or older at the end of 2016, the maximum you can contribute increases to $6,500. If you contribute more than these limits, an additional tax will apply. The additional tax is six percent of the excess amount contributed that is in your account at the end of the year.

Deductibility – Contributions to a Traditional IRA are generally tax deductible, but the deductible amount phases out for taxpayers who are active participants in their employer’s retirement plan. (Box 13 on your W-2 form from your employer will be checked if you are an active participant in your employer’s plan.) A higher phaseout threshold applies to unemployed spouses who make contributions based on the other spouse’s income. For 2016, the adjusted gross income (AGI) phaseout range is:

Single – $61,000 to $71,000

Married filing jointly – $98,000 to $118,000

Married filing separately – $0 to $10,000

Spousal IRA – $184,000 to $194,000

If you can deduct the Traditional IRA contribution, it will lower your AGI, taxable income and tax liability. The amount of your AGI is used to limit certain other deductions and tax credits. So deductible IRA contributions are a way to reduce your AGI and potentially increase other deductions and credits. For example, if you are obtaining your health insurance from a Government Marketplace, lowering your AGI could actually increase the amount of your premium tax credit that helps to pay for your insurance.

Saver’s Credit – For lower income taxpayers, there is a tax credit that helps you pay for your IRA contribution. The credit is a percentage of your IRA contribution ranging from 50% to 10% of your first $2,000 of IRA contributions. If you are married, it applies to each spouse individually. For 2016, the credit applies to married taxpayers with an AGI less than $61,500, single taxpayers under $30,750 and head of household filers under $46,125.

Choosing Between Traditional & Roth IRAs – Generally distributions (except for non-deductible contributions) from Traditional IRAs are taxable, while distributions from Roth IRAs are tax-free.

For more details on how an IRA contribution will impact your 2016 tax return, please give this office a call. We can also determine the effect at your tax appointment.

Childcare Providers Enjoy Special Tax Deductions

If you are a childcare provider, tax law provides you with special tax breaks, including deductions for travel, capital purchases, supplies, children’s meals and the business use of your home.

Travel – Your auto expenses are based on the number of qualified business miles that you drive. Auto expenses for you (as a day care provider) could include transportation:

  • To and from a class taken to enhance your day care skills;
  • For field trips with those for whom you are providing care;
  • For errands related to day care business (e.g., going to the bank to deposit day care receipts or to the store to shop for day care supplies); or
  • To chauffeur day care attendees.
  • To claim business use of your vehicle, use the actual expense method or the standard mileage rate. However, the actual method requires far more detailed records; you must keep track of your business miles and total miles to prorate the costs of fuel, insurance, repairs, etc. You will probably find the standard mileage rate to be far less complicated, as you only need to contemporaneously record your business miles and the purpose of each trip. Even with the standard method, you’ll still need to know the total miles driven for the year. For 2017, the rate is 53.5 cents per mile, down from 54.0 cents per mile in 2016.

Capital Purchases – Capital items are those that normally last more than one year, including cribs and playground equipment. Be sure to keep receipts for these items, as they can generally be depreciated or expensed, whichever works best for you.

Supplies and Business Expenses – The cost of items such as crayons, coloring books, paper plates, cups, cleaning supplies, and first aid supplies are also deductible in the year they are purchased. However, you need to keep receipts for all such purchases.
Food – You can also deduct the actual cost of any food that is provided to the children in your care. It can be a bookkeeping nightmare to keep track of which grocery items were purchased for the childcare business and which were for personal consumption. Luckily, the government allows a care provider to deduct standard meal rates in lieu of actual amounts. This method does not require you to keep grocery receipts, and the IRS will not contest a food deduction based on the standard rates. The rates are the same throughout the contiguous U.S. states, with higher allowances for Alaska and Hawaii.

Business Use of the Home – Generally, when a taxpayer claims a business deduction for the use of his or her home, the portion of the home that is used must be exclusively used for business purposes. Knowing that childcare providers do not use a specific space in the home 100 percent of the time, Congress added an exception related to the business’s licensing, certification, registration, or approval as a day care center or family/group care home under the provisions of any applicable state law. This exception applies only if the childcare owner or operator has applied for, been granted, or is exempt from such approval. In addition, the exception does not apply if the services performed are primarily educational or instructional in nature (e.g., musical instruction). However, the exception does apply if the services are primarily custodial, such that any educational, developmental or enrichment activities are only incidental to the custodial services. The services must be provided for adults age 65 or older, children, or other individuals who are physically or mentally incapable of caring for themselves.

When calculating the percentage use of a home for business, there are two factors: the space used to operate the day care business and the amount of time that the space is used to provide day care, including preparation and cleaning time.

There is also a simplified deduction method for the business use of a home; it may be useful for individuals who work from a home office, but it is generally unsuitable for a childcare business.

The deduction for the business use of a home is limited to gross income from the business. If that limit applies to you, any home mortgage interest and property taxes that you have paid, as well as any casualty losses that you have incurred for the year, are always deductible when you itemize deductions, regardless of whether you claim a deduction for the business use of the home.

If you have questions related to how any of these tax breaks apply to your childcare business, please give this office a call.

IRS Clamps Down on Tax Credits

In an effort to rein in tax fraud, which is costing the government billions of tax dollars, some new laws that take effect in 2016 will clamp down on individuals who have fraudulently claimed the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), the Child Tax Credit (CTC), or the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

All three are partially or totally refundable credits, which means that, in addition to reducing an individual’s tax liability to zero, they can cause excess credit to be refunded to the taxpayer, making them favorite targets of fraudsters.

  • The AOTC is the college tuition credit for low-income families that provides a credit for each eligible student equal to 100% of the first $2,000 and 25% of the next $2,000 spent on college tuition and related expenses; the maximum credit is $2,500, of which 40% is refundable. The credit is phased out depending on income.
  • The CTC is a tax credit of $1,000 for each of the taxpayer’s qualifying dependent children. A portion of the credit that is not used to offset the taxpayer’s tax liability can be refundable; the refund is based in part on the number children in the family and in part on the taxpayer’s earned income. This credit may also be phased out for higher-income taxpayers.
  • The EITC is a refundable credit awarded to low-income taxpayers who work. The credit is based on the amount of the taxpayer’s income that comes from working as well as on total income and on number of children. In 2016, this credit can be worth as much as $6,269.

Here is a rundown of some of the new provisions that the government has put in place to defend against fraud.

Retroactive Claims – Individuals are now prevented from retroactively claiming the AOTC, CTC or EITC if the individual, dependent child or student for whom the credit is claimed does not have a taxpayer identification number (TIN). In other words, the TIN must be issued prior to the due date for filing the original return in the tax year for which the credit is claimed; the IRS will deny the credit if the TIN is not issued on time. In most cases, the TIN is a Social Security number.

Disallowance Periods – When a taxpayer improperly claims the AOTC, CTC or EITC (either fraudulently or recklessly), he or she will be barred from claiming that credit for a period of time. The disallowance periods are 10 years for fraud and 2 years for reckless or intentional disregard of rules and regulations.

Preparer Due Diligence Requirements – In the past, paid tax preparers have always abided by a set of due-diligence guidelines for EITC qualification before including that credit on any return that they prepared. These due-diligence requirements have been expanded to include the CTC and the AOTC. This adds additional work for paid preparers and increases their liability for errors, as each disallowed credit could be subject to a $510 preparer penalty.

1098-T Required to Claim Education Credits – Education credits can no longer be claimed unless the taxpayer includes the employer identification number of the educational institution to which the tuition was paid. This number, as well as the other information needed to determine the credit, can be found on the Form 1098-T (Tuition Statement) issued by the educational institution. The new rules require that the taxpayer (or the dependent who is a student) receive a 1098-T form to claim the credit, although some exceptions are provided.

Refunds that Include the EITC or CTC Will Be Purposely Delayed – Refunds from returns that include an EITC or a refundable CTC will not be issued prior to February 15th, which gives the IRS additional time to verify the validity of the credit claims and to match them against the taxpayers’ income amounts and the informational returns that are filed with the IRS to verify tuition.

If you have questions related to any of the foregoing safeguards, the delayed refunds or the credits themselves, please give the office a call.

Don’t Overlook Standard Mileage Rate Add-Ons

Business owners often use the standard mileage rate instead of actual expenses when taking a deduction for the business use of their vehicle. The standard mileage rate is determined annually by the IRS by using data from a study conducted by an independent contractor of vehicle operating expenses based on the prior year’s costs. The operating expenses include:

  • Gasoline,
  • Oil,
  • Lubrication,
  • Repairs,
  • Vehicle registration fees,
  • Insurance, and
  • Straight line depreciation (or lease payments).

What business owners using the standard mileage rate frequently overlook is that parking and tolls, as well as state and local property taxes paid for the vehicle and attributable to business use, may be deducted in addition to the standard mileage rate.

Regardless of whether the standard mileage rate or actual expense method is used, a self-employed taxpayer may also deduct the business use portion of interest paid on an auto loan on their Schedule C. However, employees may not deduct interest paid on a consumer car loan.

If you have questions related to taking a tax deduction for the business use of your vehicle, please give this office a call.

Small Business: The future of pass-through entities and taxes

According to the Tax Foundation (https://taxfoundation.org/pass-through-businesses-data-and-policy/), 90% of United States (US)-based businesses are pass-through entities, such as S corporations, partnerships, and sole proprietorships. These businesses employ the majority of the private-sector workforce and provide nearly half of all business income. Income from these entities is passed through to the owner’s individual tax returns. With the change in leadership in Washington, several proposals will most likely change the way in which these entities are taxed, making it more advantageous to be a small business owner.

Types of Business Structures
A number of pros and cons exist for each type of business structure depending on the owner’s area of expertise and personal needs. But here are the basics:

  • Sole Proprietorship – This is the simplest business form and is not a legal entity. It is an unincorporated business owned by one individual. There is no distinction between the business and the owner, meaning the owner includes profit or loss, credits, etc., on his or her individual return and is responsible for all of the debts and liabilities of the business. A sole proprietor may register his or her businesses with his or her state as a Limited Liability Company (LLC), which generally limits the owner’s liability to the business assets of the sole proprietorship. However, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does not recognize LLCs, so for federal purposes, it remains a sole proprietorship.
  • Partnership – Partnerships are similar to sole proprietorships except that there are multiple owners, including individuals or other businesses. Many forms of partnerships exist, such as general, limited, publically traded, etc., each with its own set of tax and accounting rules. A partnership’s income, loss, credits, etc., are passed through to each individual or entity partner via a K-1. Like sole proprietorships, partnerships may opt for LLC status for state purposes.
  • S Corporation – An S corporation is a U.S. domestic corporation that has filed a timely S election (Form 2553) to be treated as a pass-through entity. This means the S corporation is generally exempt from federal taxes. Instead, the corporation’s income or loss, credits, etc., are included on the individual shareholders’ personal tax returns. An S corporation is limited to 100 individual shareholders, files its own tax return (1120-S), and distributes the results to each shareholder via a form K-1.
  • C Corporations – A corporation is a business entity unto itself. Unlike sole proprietorships and pass-through entities, a corporation pays taxes on its income at the entity level, and shareholders receive dividends, which are again taxable on their personal tax returns.

What are the possible tax changes?

One of President Trump’s goals (https://assets.donaldjtrump.com/trump-tax-reform.pdf) was to make sure that “no business of any size, from a Fortune 500 corporation to a mom and pop shop to a freelancer living job to job, will pay more than 15% of their business income in taxes.” If this proposed change comes to fruition, this will reduce the top corporate rate from 25% to 15%, and the top business income tax rates for sole proprietorships and pass-through entities from 39.6% to 15%.

In Republican leader and House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “A Better Way” (https://abetterway.speaker.gov/_assets/pdf/ABetterWay-Tax-PolicyPaper.pdf) tax reform proposal, the tax rate for a sole proprietorship or a pass-through entity would be reduced to 25%. “A Better Way” proposals also include the ability of businesses to write-off investments in tangible and intangible property immediately.

What’s next?

There is much debate on how these tax changes will affect the economy. In 2014, 28.3 million U.S. businesses (http://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/cbp/technical-documentation/methodology/universe-of-cbp.html) were pass-through entities. The most common by far, making up 69.8 percent of small businesses, are sole proprietors. So any changes in the tax code will have major repercussions in the entity choices that new startups make when establishing their businesses. Understanding the advantages of each business type can have heavy tax implications. According to the Tax Foundation, the 2016 state marginal tax rates for pass-through entities are close to 50%, with California having the highest at 51.8%. Compare this to Texas, which came in at #41 with 42.6%.

We will continue to monitor the developments in the coming months. It is imperative that you seek our advice before you decide to start a business or perhaps change your current business entity. A number of opportunities might help you to lessen your tax burden. But a careful discussion beyond just the tax issues needs to take place before any decisions are made.

Do I Have to File a Tax Return?

This is a question many taxpayers ask during this time of year, and the question is far more complicated than people believe. To fully understand, we need to consider that there are times when individuals are REQUIRED to file a tax return, and then there are times when it is to individuals’ BENEFIT to file a return even if they are not required to file.

When individuals are required to file:

  • Generally, individuals are required to file a return if their income exceeds their filing threshold, as shown in the table below. The filing thresholds are the sum of the standard deduction for individual(s) and the personal exemption for the taxpayer and spouse (if any).
  • Taxpayers are required to file if they have net self-employment income in excess of $400, since they are required to file self-employment taxes (the equivalent to payroll taxes for an employee) when their net self-employment income exceeds $400.
  • Taxpayers are also required to file when they are required to repay a credit or benefit. For example, if a taxpayer acquired health insurance through a government marketplace and received advanced premium tax credit (APTC) they are required to file a return whether or not they are otherwise required to file. A return is required in order to reconcile the APTC with the premium tax credit they entitled based upon their household income for the year. So generally if you receive a 1095-A you are required to file.
  • Filing is also required when a taxpayer owes a penalty, even though the taxpayer’s income is below the filing threshold. This can occur, for example, when a taxpayer has an IRA 6% early withdrawal penalty or the 50% penalty for not taking a required IRA distribution.

When it is beneficial for individuals to file:

There are a number of benefits available when filing a tax return that can produce refunds even for a taxpayer who is not required to file:

  • Withholding refund – A substantial number of taxpayers fail to file their return even when the tax they owe is less than their prepayments, such as payroll withholding, estimates, or a prior overpayment. The only way to recover the excess is to file a return.
  • Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – If you worked and did not make a lot of money, you may qualify for the EITC. The EITC is a refundable tax credit, which means you could qualify for a tax refund. The refund could be as high as several thousand dollars even when you are not required to file.
  • Additional Child Tax Credit – This refundable credit may be available to you if you have at least one qualifying child.
  •  American Opportunity Credit – The maximum for this credit for college tuition paid per student is $2,500, and the first four years of postsecondary education qualify. Up to 40% of the credit is refundable when you have no tax liability, even if you are not required to file.
  • Premium Tax Credit – Lower-income families are entitled to a refundable tax credit to supplement the cost of health insurance purchased through a government Marketplace. To the extent the credit is greater than the supplement provided by the Marketplace, it is refundable even if there is no other reason to file.

DON’T PROCRASTINATE! There is a three-year statute of limitations on refunds, and after it runs out, any refund due is forfeited. The statute is three years from the due date of the tax return. So the refund period expires for 2016 returns, which were due in April of 2017, on April 15, 2020.

For more information about filing requirements and your eligibility to receive tax credits, please contact this office.

It’s Tax Time!

Missed a 60-Day Rollover? There May Be Relief

Taxpayers can take a distribution from an IRA or other qualified retirement plan and if they roll it over (put it back) within 60 days they can avoid taxation on the distributed amount. (This provision does not apply to required minimum distributions for taxpayers who are 70.5 years of age and over.) In addition, taxpayers are limited to one IRA-to-IRA rollover per year.

Taxpayers who have missed the 60-day rollover window can get the 60-day period extended in one of the following ways:

Financial Institution Error – Where the failure to meet the deadline is due to financial institution error, the IRS provides an automatic waiver.

Private Letter Ruling (PLR) – Where automatic waiver does not apply, and the taxpayer feels there is a legitimate reason for missing the 60-day rollover requirement, the taxpayer can request relief though a PLR where the IRS reviews the reason for missing the 60-day rollover period and either allows or denies relief from the 60-day requirement. However, the IRS will charge the taxpayer requesting the PLR a user fee of $10,000, which negates the purpose of a PLR except in cases of very large rollover amounts.

New Self-Certification Procedure – The IRS recently announced a new certification procedure that allows a taxpayer who misses the 60-day time limit for properly rolling the amount into another retirement plan or IRA to make a written certification to a plan administrator or an IRA trustee that a contribution satisfies one of the acceptable reasons, and therefore is eligible for a waiver of the 60-day rule.

The acceptable reasons for missing the 60-day requirement include:

  • An error was committed by the financial institution;
  • The distribution check was misplaced and never cashed;
  • The distribution was mistakenly deposited into an account that the taxpayer thought was an eligible retirement plan;
  • The taxpayer’s principal residence was severely damaged;
  • A member of the taxpayer’s family died;
  • The taxpayer or a member of the taxpayer’s family was seriously ill;
  • The taxpayer was incarcerated;
  • Restrictions were imposed by a foreign country;
  • A postal error occurred;
  • The distribution was made on account of an IRS levy, and the proceeds of the levy have been returned to the taxpayer; or

The rollover must be completed as soon as practicable after the reason(s) listed above no longer prevent the taxpayer from making the contribution. This requirement is deemed to be satisfied if the contribution is made within 30 days after the reason(s) no longer prevent the taxpayer from making the contribution.

This procedure does not apply where the IRS previously denied a waiver request for the same missed rollover.

The IRS provides a model letter that can be used to make the self-certification. Please call this office if you need a copy of the letter, have questions, or need assistance related to a missed 60-day rollover.