Author Archives: CN Staff

Along with Tax Season Come the Scams; Don’t Be a Victim

One thing we can count on when tax season begins is the scammers coming out from under their rocks with schemes to try and trick you so they can steal your ID and file returns under your Social Security number (SSN). Or, they may even email or call you pretending to be IRS or state tax agents and attempt to intimidate you into sending them money to pay fabricated tax liabilities. These crooks take advantage of individuals’ natural fear of the IRS and use it to coerce their marks into making payments without first verifying the validity of the liability.

Don’t be a victim of these unscrupulous predators. The only way to protect yourself is to understand their tricks and what to do (actually, what not to do). This article includes a variety of plots that have been employed in the past. But, keep in mind these lowlifes can be very clever, intimidating, and aggressive, and come up with new schemes all the time, so you need to be vigilant.

ID thieves prize three things: your name, Social Security number, and birth date. You should always be very careful about divulging your birth date and SSN. Don’t use them unless absolutely necessary, and always question the requester’s need to know.

You should also be aware that the IRS never initiates contact in any way other than by U.S. Mail. So, if you receive a phone call from out of the blue demanding payment, you can be assured it is a scam. Simply hang up the phone without providing any information. If you receive an email from the IRS, do not click on embedded links or attachments. That could cause malware to be installed on your computer, allowing scammers to access your computer. The first thing you should do is call this office.

Additionally, it is important for taxpayers to know that the IRS:

  • Never asks for credit card, debit card, or prepaid card information over the telephone.
  • Never insists that taxpayers use a specific payment method to pay tax obligations.
  • Never requests immediate payment over the telephone.
  • Will not take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversation. Taxpayers usually receive prior written notification of IRS enforcement actions involving IRS tax liens or levies.

Email Scams & Phishing – Every tax season, the scammers become very active. They create bogus emails disguised as authentic emails from the IRS, your bank, or your credit card company, none of which ever request information that way. They are trying to trick you into divulging personal and financial information that they can use to invade your bank accounts, make charges against your credit card, or pretend to be you to file phony tax returns or apply for loans or credit cards. Always be skeptical! If the email is related to taxes, call this office before doing anything. If it is supposedly from your credit card company, your bank, or another financial institution, call the organization to verify the authenticity of the email.

One scam last year was an email sent to taxpayers requesting that they click on a link in the email to verify their identity before their tax refund could be released. The link took them to the ID thief’s website, made to look like the IRS’s, where victims entered their names, SSNs, and birthdates. Others used the same scheme, pretending to be an individual’s bank or credit card company.

Phone Scams – Very aggressive scammers will call, claiming to be an IRS agent, and tell the person answering the call that they owe money that must be paid immediately or their home will be seized, their wages will be attached, or even that they will be arrested. After threatening the victim with jail time or driver’s license revocation, the scammer hangs up. Soon, someone else calls back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the (rigged) caller ID supports their claim.

These are frequently thieves from outside the U.S., and once the money is transferred, there is no chance of getting it back.

In 2016, the police in Mumbai, India, busted a phone center that was calling U.S. taxpayers with just such a scheme and bilking U.S. taxpayers to the tune of $150,000 a day. They demanded payment by credit card, debit card, or gift card.

ID Thieves – These rip-off artists file phony tax returns using stolen IDs and counterfeit W-2s and have the refunds directly deposited into their bank accounts, which they then clean out before the victim or the IRS discovers what happened. If the IRS rejects your return because a SSN on your return was previously used to file, that is a good indication your ID has been stolen, and you should contact this office for instructions on notifying the IRS. Once your ID has been compromised, the IRS will issue a special six-digit Identity Protection number that can be used in conjunction with your SSN to file your return.

If your ID has been compromised, or you suspect it might have been, contact this office immediately so we can assist you in notifying the IRS, so that they block returns filed with your SSN but without the special six-digit filing number.

We also urge you to educate others in your family who could be scammed.

If you have questions, please give this office a call.

Standard Mileage Rates for 2017 Announced

As it does every year, the Internal Revenue Service recently announced the inflation- adjusted 2017 optional standard mileage rates used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes.

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2017, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (or a van, pickup or panel truck) are:

• 53.5 cents per mile for business miles driven (including a 25-cent-per-mile allocation for depreciation). This is down from 54.0 cents in 2016;
• 17 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes. This is down from 19 cents in 2016; and
• 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations.

The standard mileage rate for a business is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile. The rate for medical and moving purposes is based on the variable costs as determined by the same study. The rate for using an automobile while performing services for a charitable organization is statutorily set (it can only be changed by congressional action) and has been 14 cents for over 15 years.

Important Consideration: The 2017 rates are based on 2016 fuel costs, which were at a historic low. On top of that, OPEC has decided to cut production in an effort to drive up fuel costs. The Automobile Club has predicted an increase in fuel prices in the near future. Based on the potential for substantially higher gas prices in 2017, it may be appropriate to consider switching to the actual expense method for 2017, or at least keeping track of the actual expenses, including fuel costs, repairs, maintenance, etc., so that option is available for 2017.

Taxpayers always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using their vehicle for business rather than using the standard mileage rates. In addition to the potential for higher fuel prices, the extension of the bonus depreciation though 2019 may make using the actual expense method a worthwhile consideration in the first year the vehicle is placed in service. The bonus depreciation allowance adds an additional $8,000 to the maximum first-year depreciation deduction of passenger vehicles and light trucks that have an unloaded gross vehicle weight of 6,000 pounds or less.

However, the standard mileage rates cannot be used if the actual method (using Sec. 179, bonus depreciation and/or MACRS depreciation) has been used in previous years. This rule is applied on a vehicle-by-vehicle basis. In addition, the business standard mileage rate cannot be used for any vehicle used for hire or for more than four vehicles simultaneously.

Employer reimbursement – Where employers reimburse employees for business-related car expenses using the standard mileage allowance method for each substantiated employment-connected business mile, the reimbursement is tax-free if the employee substantiates to the employer the time, place, mileage and purpose of employment-connected business travel.

Employees whose actual employment-related business mileage expenses exceed the employer’s reimbursement can deduct the difference on their income tax return as a miscellaneous itemized deduction subject to the 2%-of-AGI floor. However, an employee who leases an auto and is reimbursed using the mileage allowance method can’t claim a deduction based on actual expenses unless he does so consistently beginning with the first business use of the auto.

Faster Write-Offs for Heavy Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) – Many of today’s SUVs weigh more than 6,000 pounds and are therefore not subject to the luxury auto depreciation limit rules; taxpayers with these vehicles can utilize both the Section 179 expense deduction (up to a maximum of $25,000) and the bonus depreciation (the Section 179 deduction must be applied first and then the bonus depreciation) to produce a sizable first-year tax deduction. However, the vehicle cannot exceed a gross unloaded vehicle weight of 14,000 pounds. Caution: Business autos are 5-year class life property. If the taxpayer subsequently disposes of the vehicle early, before the end of the 5-year period, as many do, a portion of the Section 179 expense deduction will be recaptured and must be added back to income (SE income for self-employed individuals). The future ramifications of deducting all or a significant portion of the vehicle’s cost using Section 179 should be considered.

If you have questions related to the best methods of deducting the business use of your vehicle or the documentation required, please give this office a call.

1099 Filing Date Moved Up This Year; Don’t Get Trapped into Penalties

If, in your business, you engage the services of an individual (independent contractor) other than one who meets the definition of an employee and you pay him or her $600 or more for the calendar year, you are required to issue him or her a Form 1099-MISC to avoid penalties and the prospect of losing the deduction for his or her labor and expenses in an audit.

This year it is not business as usual, however, since a law change requires the IRS to move up the filing due date by a whole month to January 31, 2017, for both the IRS filing and providing a copy to the service provider. This earlier filing date is part of the government’s effort to combat tax filing fraud.

In addition to being used to report payments to independent contractors, Form 1099-MISC is also used to report payments made by a business for rents and royalties and to attorneys for legal services, among others. If there are no independent contractor payments to report, the 2016 1099-MISC issued for other payments continues to be due to the IRS by the normal due date of February 28, 2017. However, where both independent contractor and other payments are being reported, the January 31 due date should be observed so that late filing penalties are avoided regarding the independent contractor payments.

It is not uncommon to have a repairman out early in the year, pay him less than $600, then use his services again later in the year and have the total for the year exceed the $599 limit. As a result, you may have overlooked getting the information from the individual that you need to file the 1099-MISCs for the year. Therefore, it is good practice to always have individuals who are not incorporated complete and sign an IRS Form W-9 the first time you engage them and before you pay them. Having a properly completed and signed Form W-9 for all independent contractors and service providers eliminates any oversights and protects you against IRS penalties and conflicts. If you have been negligent in the past about having the W-9s completed, it would be a good idea to establish a procedure for getting each non-corporate independent contractor and service provider to fill out a W-9 and return it to you going forward.

IRS Form W-9, Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification, is provided by the government as a means for you to obtain the data required to file 1099s for your vendors. It also provides you with verification that you have complied with the law in case the vendor gives you incorrect information. We highly recommend that you have potential vendors complete a Form W-9 before you engage in business with them. The W-9 is for your use only and is not submitted to the IRS.

The penalty for failure to file the required informational returns is substantial and is $260 per informational return. The penalty is reduced to $50 if a correct but late information return is filed not later than the 30th day after the January 31, 2017, required filing date, or it is reduced to $100 for returns filed after the 30th day but no later than August 1, 2017. If you are required to file 250 or more information returns, you must file them electronically.

In order to avoid a penalty, copies of the 1099-MISCs you’ve issued for 2016 that include independent contractor payments in box 7 need to be sent to the IRS by January 31, 2017. They must be submitted on magnetic media or on optically scannable forms (OCR forms). This firm prepares 1099s for submission to the IRS. This service provides recipient copies and file copies for your records. Use the 1099 worksheet (http://images.client-sites.com/1099-Worksheet.pdf) to provide this office with the information needed to prepare your 1099s.

Important Tax Changes for Small Businesses

Tax legislation passed late in December 2015 (the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act) extended a number of favorable business provisions and made some others permanent. The provisions can have a significant impact on a business’s taxes for 2016. Here is a rundown of those changes that need to be considered when preparing your 2016 and 2017 returns.

  • Section 179 Expensing – The Internal Revenue Code, Sec. 179, allows businesses to expense, rather than depreciate, personal tangible property other than buildings or their structural components used in a trade or business in the year the property is placed into business service. The annual limit is inflation-adjusted, and for 2017, that limit is $510,000, which is unchanged from 2016. The limit is reduced by one dollar for each dollar when the total cost of the qualifying property placed in service in any given year exceeds the investment limit, which is $2,030,000 for 2017, a $20,000 increase from the 2016 amount.
    In addition to personal tangible property, the following are included in the definition of qualifying property for the purposes of Sec. 179 expensing:
  • • Off-the-Shelf Computer Software
    • Qualified Real Property – The term “qualified real property” means property acquired by purchase for use in the active conduct of a trade or business, which is normally depreciated and    is generally not property used for lodging except for hotels or motels. Qualified retail property includes:
    o qualified leasehold improvement property,
    o qualified restaurant property, and
    o qualified retail improvement property.

Bonus Depreciation – Bonus depreciation is extended through 2019 and allows first-year depreciation of 50% of the cost of qualifying business assets placed in service through 2017. After 2017, the bonus depreciation will be phased out, with the bonus rate 40% in 2018 and 30% in 2019. After 2019, the bonus depreciation will no longer apply. Qualifying business assets generally include personal tangible property other than real property with a depreciable life of 20 years or fewer, although there are some special exceptions that include qualified leasehold property. Generally, qualified leasehold improvements include interior improvements to non-residential property made after the building was originally placed in service, but expenditures attributable to the enlargement of the building, any elevator or escalator, and the internal structural framework of the building do not qualify.
In addition, the bonus depreciation will apply to certain trees, vines and plants bearing fruits and nuts that are planted or grafted before January 1, 2020.

Vehicle Depreciation – The first-year depreciation for cars and light trucks used in business is limited by the so-called luxury-auto rules that apply to highway vehicles with an unloaded gross weight of 6,000 pounds or less. The first-year depreciation amounts for cars and small trucks change slightly from time to time; they are currently set at $3,160 for cars and $3,560 for light trucks. However, a taxpayer can elect to apply the bonus depreciation amounts to these amounts. The bonus-depreciation addition to the luxury-auto limits is $8,000 through 2017, after which it will be phased out by dropping it to $6,400 in 2018 and $4,800 in 2019. After 2019, the bonus depreciation will no longer apply.
New Filing Due Dates – There are some big changes with regard to filing due dates for a variety of returns. Many of these changes have been made to combat tax-filing fraud. The new due dates are effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2015. That means the returns coming due in 2017.
Partnerships
• Calendar Year: The due date for 1065 returns for the 2016 calendar year will be March 15, 2017 (the previous due date was April 15).
• Fiscal Year: Due the 15th day of the 3rd month after the close of the year.
• Extension: 6 months (September 15 for calendar-year partnerships).
S Corporations
• Calendar Year: 2016 calendar year 1120-S returns will be due March 15, 2017 (unchanged).
• Fiscal Year: Due the 15th day of the 3rd month after the close of the year.
• Extension: 6 months (September 15 for calendar-year S Corps).
C Corporations
• Calendar Year: The due date for Form 1120 returns for the 2016 calendar year will be April 18, 2017 (the previous due date was March 15). Normally, calendar-year returns will be due on          April 15, but because of the Emancipation Day holiday that is observed in Washington, D.C., the 2017 due date is the 18th.
• Fiscal Year: Due the 15th day of the 4th month after the close of the year, a month later than in the past (exception: if fiscal year-end is June 30, the change in due date does not apply              until returns for tax years beginning after December 31, 2025).
• Extension: 6 months. (Exceptions: [1] 5 months for any calendar-year C corporation beginning before January 1, 2026, and [2] 7 months for June 30 year-end C corps through 2025.)               Thus, the extended due date for a 2016 Form 1120 for a calendar-year C Corp will be September 15, 2017.
W-2s, W-3s and 1099-MISC reporting non-employee compensation –
• Due Date: For 2016 W-2s, W-3s, and Forms 1099-MISC reporting non-employee compensation, the due date for filing the government’s copy is January 31, 2017 (the previous due date         was February 28 or March 31 if filed electronically). The due date for providing a copy to the employee or independent contractor remains January 31.
• Extension – The 30-day automatic extension to file W-2s is no longer automatic. The IRS anticipates that it will grant the non-automatic extension of time to file only in limited cases in                 which the filer or transmitter’s explanation demonstrates that an extension of time to file is needed as a result of extraordinary circumstances

Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) – Employers may elect to claim a WOTC for a percentage of first-year wages, generally up to $6,000 of wages per employee, for hiring workers from a targeted group. First-year wages are wages paid during the tax year for work performed during the one-year period beginning on the date the target-group member begins work for the employer.

This credit originally sunset in 2014, but the PATH Act retroactively extended the credit for five years through 2019.

• Generally, the credit is 40% of first-year wages (not exceeding $6,000), for a maximum credit of $2,400 (0.4 x $6,000).
• The credit is reduced to 25% for employees who have completed at least 120 hours but fewer than 400 hours of service for the employer. No credit is allowed for an employee who has              worked fewer than 120 hours.
• The legislation also added qualified long-term unemployment recipients to the list of targeted groups, effective for employees beginning work after December 31, 2015.
Research Credit – After 21 consecutive years of extending the research credit year by year, the PATH Act made it permanent and made the following modifications to the research credit:

• For years after December 31, 2015, small businesses (average of $50 million or less in gross receipts in the prior three years) can claim the credit against the alternative minimum tax.
• For years after December 31, 2015, small businesses (less than $5 million in gross receipts for the year the credit is being claimed and no gross receipts in the prior five years) can claim          up to $250,000 per year of the credit against their employer FICA tax liability. Effectively, this provision is for start-ups.

What is in the future?

With the election of a Republican president and with a Republican majority in both the House and Senate, we can expect to see significant tax changes in the near future. President-elect Trump has indicated that he would like to see the Sec. 179 limit significantly increased and the top corporate rate dropped to 15%. Watch for future legislation once President-elect Trump takes office.

If you have questions related to the business write-offs or filing due dates, please give this office a call.

Tax Benefits for Single Parents

If you are a single parent dealing with the complicated tasks of working and raising a family, there are some tax benefits and issues you should be aware of.


Filing Status – Just because you are single or widowed does not mean you have to file your tax returns using the single filing status. Tax law provides two far more beneficial filing statuses that you might qualify for. These statuses provide higher standard deductions and more beneficial tax rates:

  • Head of Household – If you are unmarried and pay more than half the cost of maintaining a household that is the principal place of abode for your qualified child or children for more than one-half of the year, then you qualify for the head of household status. Qualified children generally include your children, grandchildren, foster children or stepchildren under the age of 19 or a full-time student under the age of 24 who is not self-supporting. This is true even if you allow the other parent to deduct the dependency exemption for the child.
  • Qualified Widow – If you are widowed, you may qualify for the head of household status discussed just above. However, if your spouse passed away in one of the two prior years, you have a child or stepchild (not including a foster child or grandchild) whom you can claim as a dependent and who lived with you the whole year, and you paid more than half the cost of keeping up the home, you can use the higher standard deduction for married individuals filing jointly. In comparison, in 2016, the standard deduction for marrieds filing jointly is $12,600, which is twice the amount for a single individual.

Child Support – Any child support you receive from the non-custodial parent is tax-free to you. Child support is also not included in household income for the purposes of determining the premium tax credit if you are otherwise qualified and obtain your health insurance through a government marketplace.

Alimony – In most cases alimony payments received from your former spouse must be included in your income and are subject to tax. However, you can treat the alimony as earned income for purposes of making an IRA contribution of as much as $5,500 ($6,500 for those age 50 and over).

Exemptions – You are entitled to an exemption allowance of $4,050 for yourself and each of your children and others whom you claim as dependents on your tax return. Generally, the custodial parent will be the one eligible to claim a child’s exemption allowance. The value of the exemptions you claim is subtracted from your gross income when you are figuring out the amount of your taxable income. For example, if you are in the 25% tax bracket, each exemption allowance you deduct saves you $1,013 of tax. However, if you allow the non-custodial parent to claim the exemption of a qualified child, then you forego the $4,050 exemption allowance for that child.

Releasing the exemption of a child to the noncustodial parent must be done in writing and to IRS’s specifications as to required information. The noncustodial parent must then attach the written form to his or her return. The release can be for one year, for specified years or for all future years. If the exemption for the child is released, then the noncustodial parent will be able to claim the child tax credit (discussed below). Note: If a child is older and attending college, keep in mind when relinquishing the child’s exemption that the partially refundable tuition credit goes to the one who claims the child.

Child Care Credit – If your child or children are under age 13, and you are working or attending school, you may qualify for the non-refundable child and dependent care credit, which is based upon the amount of your earnings from working (or imputed income if attending school) and the amount of child care expenses, up to $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more children. The credit can be as much as $1,050 for one child and $2,100 for two.

Child Tax Credit – You are also entitled to a non-refundable tax credit of $1,000 for each child under the age of 17 that you claim as a dependent. However, this credit begins to phase out for those filing as head of household with incomes in excess of $75,000. Some taxpayers with lower income may qualify for some portion of this credit to be refundable.

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – If you are working, you may also qualify for the EITC. This refundable credit is available to lower-income taxpayers and is based on your income and the number of children you have, up to three. The maximum credits for 2016 are $506 with no children, $3,373 with one, $5,572 with two, and $6,269 with three or more. The credit is totally phased out at incomes of $14,880 with no children, $39,296 with one, $44,648 with two, and $47,955 with three or more.

As you can see, there are a number of tax benefits that apply to single parents. Please consult with this office to be sure you are not missing out on one or more of the benefits available to you. If you are a custodial parent, before releasing your child’s exemption to the noncustodial parent, you may wish to contact this office so the tax impact on your return(s) can be determined.

Bitcoin Transactions Coming Under IRS Scrutiny

Apparently the use of virtual currency in investment and business transactions has reached such proportions as to catch the IRS’s eye. Coinbase, the largest bitcoin exchange firm in the U.S., has been served with an IRS John Doe summons seeking records of all customer transactions with the company from 2013 through 2015. Sources familiar with the case indicate Coinbase will most likely oppose the summons.

With a normal summons, the IRS seeks information about a specific taxpayer whose identity it knows. In contrast, a John Doe summons, the use of which by the IRS is provided for in the Internal Revenue Code and can only be served with a federal court’s approval, allows the IRS to get the names of and requested information and documents concerning all taxpayers in a certain group. It can be a useful tool for the IRS when it is trying to obtain information like a list of investors in a certain tax shelter, owners of tax-exempt bonds, or account holders at a financial institution.

Per the Government Accountability Office, virtual currency is generally considered a digital unit of exchange that is not backed by a government-issued legal tender. The popularity of virtual currencies has grown rapidly in recent years, and there are about 250 active virtual currencies in existence. However, the most popular is Bitcoin, comprising in excess of 80% of the virtual currency market.

Between May 2013 and April 2016, the number of bitcoins in circulation increased from approximately 11.2 million to more than 15.4 million, while the number of daily transactions related to bitcoins has grown from 58,795 to about 220,804. As of December 1, 2016, one bitcoin had the price equivalent of approximately $744, and bitcoins had a total market value of more than $12 billion. The exchange rate for bitcoins to U.S. dollars can be followed on the currency conversion site Oanda.com.

Notice 2014-21, which deals with the tax treatment of virtual currency, provides that virtual currencies are treated as property for tax purposes and that they are subject to the same general tax principles that apply to property transactions. Thus wages paid to employees using virtual currency are taxable to the employee and subject to W-2 reporting and withholding, just like wages paid in dollars.

Independent contractors’ payments in bitcoin are treated the same as self-employment income and included as income on the individual’s business return in the amount subject to self-employment tax. As such, they are also generally subject to SE tax. Businesses making independent contractor payments in bitcoin are subject to Form 1099-MISC reporting rules. In addition, where bitcoin is traded, it is treated as the sale of a capital asset.

Failure to report virtual currency transactions can result in substantial penalties in addition to any tax liability. The following penalties may apply:

• Failure to file information returns: $260 per information return
• Negligence penalty: 20% of the underpaid tax
• Fraud: 75% of the tax due
• Statutory interest on the underpayment

If you have questions related to reporting bitcoin or other virtual currency transactions, please give this office a call.

De Minimis Expense Election Required Before Year End

Small businesses can adopt an accounting procedure that allows them to expense, rather than to capitalize, the purchase (cost) of tangible business property. Generally, the maximum that can be expensed under this provision is whatever amount the business decides between $1 and $2,500 per item or per invoice. So if you have not adopted the accounting procedure, you have until December 31, 2016, to do so for 2017. (The rules require that the accounting procedure be in place as of the beginning of the business’s tax year.) In addition, and even if your business may have already adopted an accounting procedure, an annual election is required to be included with your 2017 tax return to apply the accounting procedure to 2017. This can be used for computers, printers, tools, etc., rather than the Sec 179 expense allowance, which recaptures as income if the item is disposed of early.

If you need assistance developing a de minimis expense accounting procedure and making the election to apply that procedure for 2017, please give this office a call.

Excited About the Social Security Benefits Increase for 2017?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that Social Security (SS) benefits will be revised for a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase of 0.3% in 2017. While this is better than the 0% increase that occurred for 2016, don’t get excited; the typical older adult receiving benefits will see only a $4.00 increase in his or her monthly check to about $1,360, according to the SSA.

At the same time, the SSA bumped the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax to $127,200, up from the current $118,500, an increase of 7.34%. Only about 12 million individuals will be affected by that increase since most American wage earners make less than the $127,200 maximum, and thus the increase will be borne by the 12 million higher-income taxpayers.

The COLA is supposed to ensure that people receiving SS benefits continue to have the same purchasing power from one year to the next without regard to inflation. Older adults in particular need this inflation protection since their savings and other income tends to fall as they age, including their pensions, and their dependence on Social Security increases. The meager increase is due in part to the fact that the SSA uses a different consumer price index (CPI), which is much lower than the CPI used to adjust tax rates. It’s clear that the SSA’s CPI is not delivering adequate inflation protection to older adults.

This is overshadowed by the fact that the Medicare Trustees in their June report cautioned that there could be a substantial increase in the Medicare Part B Premium for those currently paying $121.80 a month. These folks, whose premiums went up by over 16% for 2016, could see another increase that would bring their monthly premium to as much as $149, an increase of over 20% for 2017.

If you are substantially helping an elderly relative make ends meet, there may be an opportunity for some tax benefit. Please call for assistance.

Congress Gives Small Employer HRAs the Green Light

Background: Stand-alone HRAs do not meet two key requirements of the ACA, as they:

• Limit the dollar amount of the insured person’s annual benefits and
• Fail to provide certain preventive-care services without requiring cost-sharing.

As a result, under the IRS’ interpretation of the ACA, employers are subject to a $100 per day (maximum $36,500 per year) excise tax penalty per employee.

New Law: Effective January 1, 2017, under the 21st Century Cures Act, qualified small employers that have an average of fewer than 50 full-time employees (including full-time-equivalent employees) and that maintain a qualified small-employer HRA will be exempt from the penalty. Under this act, a qualified small employer is one that:

  1. Employs an average of fewer than 50 full-time employees (including full-time-equivalent employees) and does not offer a group health plan to its employees. The number of full-time-equivalent employees is determined by adding up all the hours that part-time employees worked in a given month and dividing by 120.
  2. Provides the HRA on the same terms to all eligible employees. Eligible employees all those except:
    a. Those who have not completed 90 days of service,
    b. Those who have not attained the age of 25,
    c. Part-time workers (generally those working an average of less than 30 hours per week),
    d. Seasonal workers (generally those employed for 6 months or fewer during the year),
    e. Those covered by a collective bargaining unit, and
    f. Certain nonresident aliens.
  3. Entirely funds the HRA (i.e., no salary-reduction contribution is made to the HRA).
  4. Only reimburses the employees after being provided with proof of their medical expenses.
  5. Limits reimbursements to $4,950 ($10,000 where the plan includes family members) per year. Amounts are subject to inflation adjustments for years after 2016.

Although this law is effective January 1, 2017, transitional relief is generally provided for any HRA plan beginning on or before December 31, 2016.
Any medical-expense reimbursements that an employee receives from a qualifying HRA are excluded from that employee’s income.

If you have questions, please give the office a call.

Only 9 Days Left for 2016 Tax Deductions

Just a reminder that the last day you may make a tax-deductible purchase, pay a tax-deductible expense, or make tax-deductible charitable contributions for 2016 is Saturday, Dec. 31, just 9 days away.

That still gives you time to make charitable contributions, pay deductible taxes, and make business acquisitions before year-end. However, making a last-minute purchase of business equipment isn’t enough to be able to deduct the cost of the equipment – you also must place that equipment into service before year’s end. This means you can’t take a deduction on your 2016 return if you take delivery of the equipment after the end of the year, even if you paid for the item in 2016.

A charitable contribution to a qualified organization is considered made at the time of its unconditional delivery, which, for donations made by check, is the date you mail it. Contributions you make by text message are deductible in the year you send the text message if the contribution is charged to your telephone or wireless account. If you use a pay-by-phone account, the date the financial institution pays the amount is considered the date you made the contribution.

If you pay your taxes by check and your financial institution honors the check, the day you mail or deliver the check is the date of payment. If you use a pay-by-phone account (such as electronic funds withdrawal), the date reported on the statement of the financial institution showing when payment was made is the date of the tax payment.

Purchases, tax payments or contributions charged to your credit card are deemed purchased when the charge is made, regardless of when you pay the credit card company.

Wishing you a happy New Year and looking forward to assisting you with your tax preparation needs during the coming tax season.