Tax Planning

Thoughts on 2019 Year-End Planning for Individuals

As we move into the fourth quarter, now is an excellent time to review your current tax planning strategies to ensure they’re still meeting your needs and develop plans for 2020. It’s also a good time to take advantage of last-minute planning opportunities that could save you money now and in the coming year.

With all that in mind, please contact us at your earliest convenience to discuss your tax situation so we can develop a customized plan. In the meantime, here’s a look at some of the issues we’re recommending clients consider as they begin their end-of-year review.

Taxation of Investments

Taxation of Investments

It's nice to own stocks, bonds, and other investments. Nice, that is, until it's time to fill out your federal income tax return. At that point, you may be left scratching your head. Just how do you report your investments and how are they taxed?

Is it ordinary income or a capital gain?

To determine how an investment vehicle is taxed in a given year, first ask yourself what went on with the investment that year. Did it generate interest income? If so, the income is probably considered ordinary. Did you sell the investment? If so, a capital gain or loss is probably involved. (Certain investments can generate both ordinary income and capital gain income, but we won't get into that here.)

If you receive dividend income, it may be taxed either at ordinary income tax rates or at the rates that apply to long-term capital gain income. Dividends paid to an individual shareholder from a domestic corporation or qualified foreign corporation are generally taxed at the same rates that apply to long-term capital gains. Long-term capital gains and qualified dividends are generally taxed at special capital gains tax rates of 0 percent, 15 percent, and 20 percent depending on your taxable income. (Some types of capital gains may be taxed as high as 25 percent or 28 percent.) The actual process of calculating tax on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends is extremely complicated and depends on the amount of your net capital gains and qualified dividends and your taxable income. But special rules and exclusions apply, and some dividends (such as those from money market mutual funds) continue to be treated as ordinary income.

The distinction between ordinary income and capital gain income is important because different tax rates may apply and different reporting procedures may be involved. Here are some of the things you need to know.

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Impact on Businesses

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: Impact on Businesses

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a $1.5 trillion tax cut package, was signed into law on December 22, 2017. The centerpiece of the legislation is a permanent reduction of the corporate income tax rate. The corporate rate change and some of the other major provisions that affect businesses and business income are summarized below. Provisions take effect in tax year 2018 unless otherwise stated.

Virtual Currency Generates Tax Liability in the Real World

Virtual Currency Generates Tax Liability in the Real World

Cryptocurrencies can be used entirely within a virtual economy or can be used instead of a government-issued currency to purchase goods and services in the real economy (GAO Report: Virtual Economies and Currencies —Additional IRS Guidance Could Reduce Tax Compliance Risks (GAO-13-516), (June 18, 2013)). Cryptocurrency, also known as virtual currency, is a digital representation of value that functions as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, or a store of value, but is not backed by a government-issued legal tender. A few examples of popular cryptocurrencies are Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin.

Since virtual currencies don’t have the status of legal tender, the Internal Revenue Service has said it will treat virtual currency as property rather than currency, since it is not regulated by any central banking system (IRS Notice 2014-21).  This means that the sale or exchange of a virtual currency that has gained value since they were acquired could trigger a tax liability.

Through certain exchanges, virtual currencies can be digitally traded between users and purchased or exchanged for U.S. dollars, other foreign currencies, or other crypto-currencies. Accordingly, taxpayers can have gain or loss on the exchange of virtual property. The tax treatment of that gain or loss, well, depends on a number of factors.  Many of these factors have not been completely defined, as the AICPA points out in its comment letter to the IRS (AICPA Comments on Notice 2014­21, June 10, 2016). 

Generally, convertible virtual currency (e.g., Bitcoin), which has an equivalent value in or acts as a substitute for real currency, is treated as property for federal tax purposes. Transactions using convertible virtual currency are subject to the general tax principles that apply to property transactions. A taxpayer who receives convertible virtual currency as payment for goods or services must include in gross income the currency's fair market value, measured in U.S. dollars, as of the date it was received. If a taxpayer successfully "mines" convertible virtual currency (e.g., uses computer resources to validate Bitcoin transactions and maintain the public Bitcoin transaction ledger), the currency's fair market value is includible in gross income as of the date of receipt (IRS Notice 2014-21) (U.S. Master Tax Guide® (2018), 785, Taxation of Miscellaneous or Other Income).

Selling or Exchanging Virtual Currency

Generally, stocks and virtual currencies are taxed the same when held as capital assets by the taxpayer, according to the IRS Notice.  The character of gain or loss from an exchange of virtual currency for property depends on whether the virtual currency is a capital asset in the taxpayer’s hands. Thus, if virtual currency is a capital asset in the taxpayer’s hands, the taxpayer realizes capital gain or loss from the exchange of virtual currency for property. If the virtual currency is not a capital asset in the taxpayer’s hands, the taxpayer realizes ordinary gain or loss.

Taxpayers who exchange virtual currency for other property will have gain or loss on the transaction. Like other exchanges of property, the amount of gain or loss is based on the difference between the fair market value of the property received and the adjusted basis of the property given up. Thus, a taxpayer has taxable gain if the fair market value of the property received in exchange for the virtual currency exceeds the taxpayer’s adjusted basis for the virtual currency. A taxpayer has a loss if the fair market value of the property received in exchange for the virtual currency is less than the taxpayer’s adjusted basis for the virtual currency.

Like-kind exchange

Taxpayers who engage in a like-kind exchange of property held for investment or for productive use in a trade or business may defer gain on the transaction. However, like-kind exchanges cannot be used for certain types of property including stocks, bonds, and foreign currencies. It is not clear if cryptocurrency can be disposed of in a like-kind exchange; and, if it can be, what would qualify as like-kind property.  The AICPA has requested that the IRS clarify "if there are particular factors that distinguish one virtual currency as like­kind to another virtual currency for section 1031 purposes" (AICPA Comments on Notice 2014­21, June 10, 2016).

Receiving Virtual Currency for Earned Income

Taxpayers have gross income if they receive virtual currency as payment for providing goods or services.

Employers and employees. Individuals who receive virtual currency, such as bitcoin, from their employer as payment for services must include the fair market value of the virtual currency in income. Employers that pay their employees’ wages in virtual currency must withhold tax on the wages. The fair market value of the virtual currency paid is subject to federal income tax withholding, Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax and Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) tax. Employers must report such amounts on Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement.

Independent contractors. An individual who receives virtual currency for performing services as an independent contractor has self-employment income equal to the fair market value of the virtual currency measured in U.S. dollars on the date of receipt.

Miners of virtual currency. Individuals will have gross income if they receive virtual currency for successfully mining virtual currency. An example of mining is using computer resources to validate bitcoin transactions and maintain the public bitcoin transaction ledger. When a “miner” successfully mines virtual currency, the miner has gross income equal to the fair market value of the virtual currency on the date of receipt of the currency.

An individual who mines virtual currency as a trade or business and not as an employee is subject to self- employment tax on the income derived from the mining activities. Self-employment tax is applied to the individual’s net earnings from self-employment from the mining activity, which is the gross income derived from the trade or business of mining less allowable deductions.

Gifts or Inheritance

The current IRS guidance on virtual currency transactions does not address the tax treatment of gifts and inheritances involving virtual currency. Since the IRS’s stated taxing principle is to treat virtual currency as property, gifts or inheritances of virtual currency should be treated as gifts or inheritances of other kinds of property.

Regarding Fair Market Value

Fair market value of virtual currency. In order to calculate gross income, gain or loss, or basis for virtual currency transactions, taxpayers must determine the fair market value of the virtual currency. Since virtual currency transactions are reported in U.S. dollars for tax purposes, taxpayers must determine the fair market value of virtual currency in U.S. dollars as of the date of payment or receipt of the virtual currency.

The fair market value for popular virtual currencies, such as bitcoin, ethereum or litecoin, can easily be determined. If a virtual currency is listed on an exchange and the exchange rate is established by market supply and demand, the fair market value is determined by converting the virtual currency into U.S. dollars at the exchange rate in a reasonable manner that is consistently applied. If the virtual currency is converted into a different real currency, then that amount must be converted into U.S dollars. Virtual currency converters are widely available on the internet.

Although the fair market value of virtual currency can easily be determined if it is listed on an exchange, the IRS has not provided any guidance on determining the fair market value of the hundreds of virtual currencies that are not listed on an exchange.

 

Taxpayer Assistance

Taxpayer’s are responsible for maintaining adequate records and documentation to substantiate the accuracy and completeness of their tax return.  Also, it’s possible that each virtual currency transaction is reportable in some form on a taxpayer’s tax return.   Support of a tax professional who is familiar with the virtual currency environment is recommended to assist with reporting requirements.   We are excepting a limited number of new clients this tax season. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation.

 

No portion of this website and related content should be construed as legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice.  See this website’s terms of use.

 

 

Deduction Planning

Deduction Planning

Taxes, like death, are inevitable. But why pay more than you have to? The trick to minimizing your federal income tax liability is to understand the rules and make the most of your tax planning opportunities. Personal deduction planning is one aspect of tax planning. Here, your goals are to use your deductions in the most efficient manner and take all deductions to which you're entitled.

Year-end Tax Planning

Year-end Tax Planning

As the end of the year approaches, it's time to consider strategies that could help you reduce your tax bill. But most tax tips, suggestions, and strategies are of little practical help without a good understanding of your current tax situation. This is particularly true for year-end planning. You can't know where to go next if you don't know where you are now.

So take a break from the usual fall chores and pull out last year's tax return, along with your current pay stubs and account statements. Doing a few quick projections will help you estimate your present tax situation and identify any glaring issues you'll need to address while there's still time.

Planning for a Baby!

So you're going to have or adopt a baby. Congratulations! Parenthood may be one of the most rewarding experiences you'll ever have. As you prepare for life with your baby, here are a few things you should think about.

REASSESS YOUR BUDGET

You'll have to buy a lot of things before (or soon after) your baby arrives. Buying a new crib, stroller, car seat, and other items you'll need could cost you well over $1,000. But if you do your homework, you can save money without sacrificing quality and safety. Discount stores or Internet retailers may offer some items at lower prices than you'll find elsewhere. If you don't mind used items, poke around for bargains at yard sales and flea markets. Finally, you'll probably get hand-me-downs and shower gifts from family and friends, so some items will be free.

Buying all of the gear you need is pretty much a one-shot deal, but you'll also have many ongoing expenses that will affect your monthly budget. These may include baby formula and food, diapers, clothing, child care (day care and/or baby-sitters), medical costs not covered by insurance (such as co-payments for doctor's visits), and increased housing costs (if you move to accommodate your larger family, for example). Redo your budget to figure out how much your total monthly expenses will increase after the birth of your baby. If you've never created a budget before, now's the time to start. Chances are, you'll be spending at least an extra few hundred dollars a month. If it looks like the added expenses will strain your budget, you'll want to think about ways to cut back on your expenses.

DECIDE IF ONE OF YOU SHOULD STAY HOME

Will it make sense for both of you to work outside the home, or should one person stay home? That's a question only you and your spouse can answer. Maybe both of you want to work because you enjoy your jobs. Or maybe you have no choice if the only way you can get by financially is for both of you to work. But don't be too hasty--the financial benefits of two incomes may not be as great as you think. Remember, you may have to pay for expensive day care if both of you work. You'll also pay more in taxes because your household income will be higher. Finally, the working spouse will have commuting and other work-related expenses. Run the numbers to see how much of a financial benefit you really get if both of you work. Then, weigh that benefit against the peace of mind you would get from having one spouse stay home with the baby. A compromise might be for one of you to work only part-time.

REVIEW YOUR INSURANCE NEEDS

You'll incur high medical expenses during the pregnancy and delivery, so check the maternity coverage that your health insurance offers. And, of course, you'll have another person to insure after the birth. Good medical coverage for your baby is critical, because trips to the pediatrician, prescriptions, and other health-care costs can really add up over time. Fortunately, adding your baby to your employer-sponsored health plan or your own private plan is usually not a problem. Just ask your employer or insurer what you need to do (and when, usually within 30 days of birth or adoption) to make sure your baby will be covered from the moment of birth. An employer-sponsored plan (if available) is often the best way to insure your baby, because these plans typically provide good coverage at a lower cost. But expect additional premiums and out-of-pocket costs (such as co-payments) after adding your baby to any health plan.

It's also time to think about life insurance. Though it's unlikely that you'll die prematurely, you should be prepared anyway. Life insurance can protect your family's financial security if something unexpected happens to you. Your spouse can use the death benefit to pay off debts (e.g., a mortgage, car loan, credit cards), support your child, and meet other expenses. Some of the funds could also be set aside for your child's future education. If you don't have any life insurance, now may be a good time to get some. The cost of an individual policy typically depends on your age, your health, whether you smoke, and other factors. Even if you already have life insurance (through your employer, for example), you should consider buying more now that you have a baby to care for. An insurance agent or financial professional can help you figure out how much coverage you need.

UPDATE YOUR ESTATE PLAN

With a new baby to think about, you and your spouse should update your wills (or prepare wills, if you haven't already) with the help of an attorney. You'll need to address what will happen if an unexpected tragedy strikes. Who would be the best person to raise your child if you and your spouse died at the same time? If the person you choose accepts this responsibility, you'll need to designate him or her in your wills as your minor child's legal guardian. You should also name a contingent guardian, in case the primary guardian dies. Guardianship typically involves managing money and other assets that you leave your minor child. You may also want to ask your attorney about setting up a trust for your child and naming trustees separate from the suggested guardians.

While working with your attorney, you and your spouse should also complete a health-care proxy and durable power of attorney. These documents allow you to designate someone to act on your behalf for medical and financial decisions if you should become incapacitated.

START SAVING FOR YOUR LITTLE ONE'S EDUCATION

The price of a college education is high and keeps getting higher. By the time your baby is college-bound, the annual cost of a good private college could be almost triple what it is today, including tuition, room and board, books, and so on. How will you afford this? Your child may receive financial aid (e.g., grants, scholarships, and loans), but you need to plan in case aid is unavailable or insufficient. Set up a college fund to save for your child's education--you can arrange for funds to be deducted from your paycheck and invested in the account(s) that you choose. You can also suggest that family members who want to give gifts could contribute directly to this account. Start as soon as possible (it's never too early), and save as much as your budget permits. Many different savings vehicles are available for this purpose, some of which have tax advantages. Talk to a financial professional about which ones are best for you.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT YOUR TAXES

There's no way around it: Having children costs money. However, you may be entitled to some tax breaks that can help defray the cost of raising your child. First, you may be eligible for an extra exemption if your annual income is below a certain level for your filing status. This will reduce your income tax bill for every year that you're eligible to claim the exemption. You may also qualify for one or more child-related tax credits: the child tax credit (a $1,000 credit for each qualifying child), the child and dependent care credit (if you have qualifying child-care expenses), and the earned income credit (if your annual income is below a certain level). To claim any of these exemptions and credits on your federal tax return, you'll need a Social Security number for your child. You may be able to apply for this number (as well as a birth certificate) right at the hospital after your baby's birth. For more information about tax issues, talk to a tax professional.

Tax Issues for Household Employers

Tax Issues for Household Employers

If you pay for household help, you may be liable for the "nanny tax," even if your employee is not a nanny, per se. The nanny tax refers to three federal employment taxes that household employers may have to pay for their domestic workers — Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment taxes. If you hire someone to work in or around your home, you'll need to know what federal income tax issues (if any) apply, and what forms may be required. Although you may have to withhold and pay federal employment taxes in certain cases, you won't have to withhold federal income tax from your household employees' wages (unless you choose to do so).

Introduction to the S Corporation - Income or Loss

Introduction to the S Corporation - Income or Loss

What is an S corporation?

An S corporation is a small business entity that is treated as a regular corporation for all purposes other than its treatment under tax law. To make a "subchapter S election," a corporation must satisfy a number of requirements:

  • All shareholders must consent to the S corporation status
  • The number of shareholders is limited to 100 (25 for tax years beginning prior to 2004)
  • The corporation can issue only one class of stock
  • The S corporation must be a domestic corporation, and its shareholders must be citizens or residents of the United States
  • Only individuals, estates, S corporations, and certain trusts can be shareholders of the S corporation

A Simplified Home Office Deduction

Do you work at home or have a home-based business? If so, you should be aware that the IRS has created a simpler option for calculating the deduction for the business use of your home. The new option makes recordkeeping easier because, instead of maintaining records of specific home office expenses, you can use a standard rate per square foot. The rate is $5 per square foot (up to a maximum of 300 sq. feet or $1,500) for qualifying business use space in place of taking a pro rata percentage of items such as mortgage interest, taxes and repairs.

Keep in mind there are good and bad aspects to this “simpler” method. The new method gives you back your full interest and tax deduction on schedule A, but you will lose your depreciation and loss carryover deductions. Of course, you must still use your home office regularly and exclusively for business. This may be a welcome relief for some taxpayers, but it might not be the best choice for others. Is it the right choice for you? Please contact us for answers to your financial questions.

WHEN DO YOU HAVE TO PAY A GIFT TAX?

People are sometimes surprised to learn that the IRS regulates gifts over a certain size. 

As a donor, you are responsible for reporting the gift if it exceeds $14,000 and paying the gift tax if you have given more than $5.45 million in cash or property (over a lifetime). Regardless of the amount, you cannot deduct a gift as you could with a charitable donation.
As a recipient, you do not need to include the gift as part of your taxable income. However, if you receive property other than cash, you will need to determine the cost basis at the time of the transfer to have the proper value in case you dispose of it later.

Kids in day care? You should know about these tax credits.

Discussed dependent care credits tonight with my brother and sister-in-law (parents of 5 month-old twins), so I thought I would share the information on the federal credit with you all as well.  Also, check out the link below for allowable credits in your state.