Second Quarter Deadlines are Looming

It’s hard to believe that second quarter tax deadlines are already in our midst. Mark your calendars for the following due dates…

April 15 — Besides being the last day to file (or extend) your 2018 personal return and pay any tax that’s due, 2019 first quarter estimated tax payments for individuals, trusts and calendar-year corporations are due today. Also due are 2018 returns for trusts and calendar-year estates and C corporations, FinCEN Form 114 (“Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts” — though an automatic extension applies to October 15), and any final contribution you plan to make to an IRA or Education Savings Account for 2018. SEP and Keogh plan contributions are also due today if your return is not being extended.

May 15 — Original due date for exempt organization returns (Form 990).

June 17 — Second quarter estimated tax payments for individuals, trusts, and calendar-year corporations are due.

Are Income Taxes Taking a Bite Out of Your Trusts?

If your estate plan includes one or more trusts, review them before you file your tax return. Or, if you’ve already filed it, look carefully at how your trusts were affected. Income taxes often take an unexpected bite out of these asset-protection vehicles.


3 Ways to Soften the Blow

For trusts, there are income thresholds that may trigger the top income tax rate of 37%, the top long-term capital gains rate of 20%, and the net investment income tax of 3.8%. Here are three ways to soften the blow:

  1. Use grantor trusts. An intentionally defective grantor trust (IDGT) is designed so that you, the grantor, are treated as the trust’s owner for income tax purposes — even though your contributions to the trust are considered “completed gifts” for estate- and gift-tax purposes. The trust’s income is taxed to you, so the trust itself avoids taxation. This allows trust assets to grow tax-free, leaving more for your beneficiaries. And it reduces the size of your estate. Further, as the owner, you can sell assets to the trust or engage in other transactions without tax consequences. Keep in mind that, if your personal income exceeds the applicable thresholds for your filing status, using an IDGT won’t avoid the tax rates described above. Still, the other benefits of these trusts make them attractive.
  2. Change your investment strategy. Despite the advantages of grantor trusts, nongrantor trusts are sometimes desirable or necessary. At some point, for example, you may decide to convert a grantor trust to a nongrantor trust to relieve yourself of the burden of paying the trust’s taxes. Also, grantor trusts become nongrantor trusts after the grantor’s death. One strategy for easing the tax burden on nongrantor trusts is for the trustee to shift investments into tax-exempt or tax-deferred investments.
  3. Distribute income. Generally, nongrantor trusts are subject to tax only to the extent they accumulate taxable income. When a trust makes distributions to a beneficiary, it passes along ordinary income (and, in some cases, capital gains), which are taxed at the beneficiary’s marginal rate. Thus, one strategy for minimizing taxes on trust income is to distribute the income (assuming the trust isn’t already required to distribute income) to beneficiaries in lower tax brackets. The trustee might also consider distributing appreciated assets, rather than cash, to take advantage of a beneficiary’s lower capital gains rate. Of course, doing so may conflict with a trust’s purposes.

Opportunities to Reduce

If you’re concerned about income taxes on your trusts, contact us. We can review your estate plan to assess the tax exposure of your trusts, as well as to uncover opportunities to reduce your family’s tax burden.

Business vs. Hobby: The Tax Rules Have Changes

If you generate income from a passion such as cooking, woodworking, raising animals — or anything else — beware of the tax implications. They’ll vary depending on whether the activity is treated as a hobby or a business.

The bottom line: The income generated by your activity is taxable. But different rules apply to how income and related expenses are reported.

Factors to Consider

The IRS has identified several factors that should be considered when making the hobby vs. business distinction. The greater the extent to which these factors apply, the more likely your activity will be deemed a business.

For starters, in the event of an audit, the IRS will examine the time and effort you devote to the activity and whether you depend on income from the activity for your livelihood. Also, the IRS will likely view it as a business if any losses you’ve incurred are because of circumstances beyond your control, or they took place in what could be defined as the start-up phase of a company.

Profitability — past, present and future — is also important. If you change your operational methods to improve profitability, and you can expect future profits from the appreciation of assets used in the activity, the IRS is more likely to view it as a business. The agency may also consider whether you’ve previously made a profit in similar activities. Also, the intent to make a profit is a key factor.

The IRS always stresses that the final determination will be based on all the relevant facts and circumstances related to your activity.

Changes Under the TCJA

Under previous tax law, if the activity was deemed a hobby, you could still generally deduct ordinary and necessary expenses associated with it. But you had to deduct hobby expenses as miscellaneous itemized deduction items, so they could be written off only to the extent they exceeded 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI).

All of this has changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Beginning with the 2018 tax year and running through 2025, the TCJA eliminates write-offs for miscellaneous itemized deduction items previously subject to the 2% of AGI threshold.

Thus, if the activity is a hobby, you won’t be able to deduct expenses associated with it. However, you must still report all income from it. If, instead, the activity is considered a business, you can deduct the expenses associated with it. If the business activity results in a loss, you can deduct the loss from your other income in the same tax year, within certain limits.

An Issue to Address

Worried the IRS might recharacterize your business as a hobby? We can help you address this issue on your 2018 return or assist you in perhaps filing an amended return, if appropriate.

Running Your Personal Finances Like a Business

Most individuals don’t regard themselves as businesses, trying to turn a profit and beat the competition. But, occasionally, it may help to look at your financial situation this way to determine where you might cut expenses and boost cash flow. Here are some tips.

Lay Out Your Financials

Where an executive might reach for financial statements to get a read on the company’s standing, you can create or update a net worth statement. Essentially a monetary scorecard, a net worth statement helps you determine where you stand financially and whether you’re on track to meet your goals.

You can calculate your net worth by adding all your assets, including cash and cash equivalents, brokerage account balances, retirement funds, real estate and other fixed assets and personal property. Then subtract your liabilities, including mortgages, personal loans, credit card balances and taxes due.

The result provides some important clues about where your money is going and how you might be able to trim spending and increase savings. Are you overrelying on credit cards with high interest rates? Could you cut back on food or entertainment costs?

Practice Risk Management

To maintain their companies’ financial health, business executives also practice risk management. You can do the same by first assessing compensation and benefits elections. A major life change — such as a marriage or birth — may require an update to your W-4 withholding allowances with your employer.

Unexpected medical costs can be a huge risk. Review your health insurance to ensure it’s providing the best value. Now might not be an ideal time to switch to a spouse’s plan but, if it’s a better deal, perhaps make a note to do so when you can. Also, if you have a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account, make sure you’re using it to your full advantage.

Think about other insurance, too. Perhaps your home has increased in value, necessitating a corresponding increase in your homeowner’s coverage. Or maybe you no longer have enough life insurance to protect your growing family. Talk to your insurance professional to determine the right amount of coverage.

Finally, check your credit report. If you wait until something is obviously wrong, it may be too late to prevent significant damage. Federal law requires the three major credit reporting agencies to provide you with one free report per year.

Think About Retirement

Business owners must think about succession planning. But even if you don’t own a company, you should think about life after employment.

If your employer allows you to adjust your retirement plan contributions during the year, consider boosting them to take full advantage of tax-deferred compounding and, if available, employer matching. Similarly, if you plan to make an IRA contribution this year, do so as early as possible to give your assets more time to grow.

Also review your estate plan and, if necessary, update it. Financial priorities change over time, so make sure the beneficiary designations for your retirement accounts and insurance policies still match your wishes. Check your will or living trust to ensure no changes are necessary. And, if you’re looking to reduce the value of your taxable estate, remember that you can make $15,000 ($30,000 for married couples) in annual exclusion gifts per recipient this year without using up any lifetime exemption.

Get Rolling

Some might say that the beginning of the year is the most important time for financial planning. Others might say it’s year end, when you start preparing to file your tax return. In truth, the whole year is important. And right now, with the arrival of spring and the year well under way, is a perfect time to adjust objectives set a few months ago — and really get rolling. Contact us for help.

Copyright © 2019

Beware of Seasonal Scammers

It’s a common story that we see far too often. Seasonal tax preparers looking to take advantage of taxpayers with promises of big refunds and overblown tax credits. Those most frequently targeted are the elderly, low-income taxpayers, non-English speakers, or some who may not have a filing requirement. They commonly advertise with word-of-mouth (boasting big referral dollars), flyers, and even small community events.

The most important thing to remember is that while these scammers may face legal recourse as well, the taxpayer is legally responsible for what is filed in their name, even if it’s prepared by someone else. This can come as a shock to some victims who are penalized due to a falsified return.

How to avoid being a victim of these scammers

  • Check their credentials. Whether they are a CPA, EA, or even an attorney, there are online records through the IRS and many state associations detailing the information of reputable, trustworthy preparers.
  • Review your return. Tax preparers who are honest do not keep the return private from the client. It’s standard practice among reputable CPA firms to supply a copy of the return to the client and walk them through their return. If your preparer does not allow you to review what has been filed in your name, it may be a red flag.
  • Make sure the refund is deposited into your account. Some scammers direct your refund to be deposited into their personal or business account and then deduct their “fee” before paying the victim of their fraud. Don’t let this happen to you. Make sure your refund is directly deposited into your account to not be charged outrageous fees by these scammers.
  • Do your research. Ask your friends, family, do online searching, whatever is needed to find a local, reputable tax preparer. Ask questions at your initial consultation about their background, local history, and filing processes. Don’t be shy about interviewing your prospective preparer, as they will obtain very sensitive financial information from you and should be properly vetted.

 

IRS Waives Estimated Penalty for Farmers and Fisherman, Extends to 4/15 Deadline

The IRS announced today that it will waive penalties for farmers and fishermen who do not meet the usual March 1st filing deadline. This essentially extends that federal deadline to April 15th for those qualifying taxpayers who in either tax year 2017 or 2018 received at least two-thirds of his or her total gross income from farming or fishing.

The IRS released a statement claiming the agency “is providing this relief because, due to certain rule changes, many farmers and fisherman may have difficulty accurately determining their tax liability by the March 1 deadline that usually applies to them.”

Further details can be found in Notice 2019-17 on IRS.gov. For questions concerning this news, please contact your local Scheffel Boyle office.

There May Be Unclaimed Property With Your Name On It

It may sound too good to be true, but there may be valuable unclaimed property out there with your name on it. The term generally refers to financial assets being held for owners who haven’t been found. Just a few examples include uncashed dividend and payroll checks; unclaimed tax refunds; and insurance payments, refunds or policies with cash value.

If you’re interested in looking, there are search databases maintained by the state or states where you live and work, as well as states where you (or a deceased relative) previously lived and worked. Unclaimed property is sent to the state of the owner’s last known address.

Most states participate in MissingMoney.com, a free, national unclaimed property database. For states that don’t participate, you can find links to every state’s unclaimed property database on unclaimed.org, the website of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. You can also use this site to find links to relevant federal programs.

If you discover unclaimed property in your name, follow the instructions on the website where you found it. Typically, you’ll need to provide proof of ownership or, in the case of a deceased owner, a death certificate and proof that you’re entitled to the assets (such as a will).

Finally, be wary of companies that offer to locate and obtain property for a fee. Some of these offers are scams. But even if they’re legitimate, in most cases you can find and claim assets yourself for free or by paying a nominal handling fee.

Did You Repair Your Business Property or Improve It?

Repairs to tangible property, such as buildings, machinery, equipment or vehicles, can provide businesses a valuable current tax deduction — as long as the so-called repairs weren’t actually “improvements.”

The costs of incidental repairs and maintenance can be immediately expensed and deducted on the current year’s income tax return. But costs incurred to improve tangible property must be capitalized and recovered through depreciation.

Betterment, Restoration, or Adaptation

Generally, a cost must be depreciated if it results in an improvement to a building structure, or any of its building systems (for example, the plumbing or electrical system), or to other tangible property. An improvement occurs if there was a betterment, restoration or adaptation of the unit of property.

Under the “betterment test,” you generally must depreciate amounts paid for work that is reasonably expected to materially increase the productivity, efficiency, strength, quality or output of a unit of property or that is a material addition to a unit of property.

Under the “restoration test,” you generally must depreciate amounts paid to replace a part (or combination of parts) that is a major component or a significant portion of the physical structure of a unit of property.

Under the “adaptation test,” you generally must depreciate amounts paid to adapt a unit of property to a new or different use — one that isn’t consistent with your ordinary use of the unit of property at the time you originally placed it in service.

Safe Harbors

A couple of IRS safe harbors can help distinguish between repairs and improvements:

  1. Routine maintenance safe harbor. Recurring activities dedicated to keeping property in efficient operating condition can be expensed. These are activities that your business reasonably expects to perform more than once during the property’s “class life,” as defined by the IRS. Amounts incurred for activities outside the safe harbor don’t necessarily have to be depreciated, though. These amounts are subject to analysis under the general rules for improvements.
  2. Small business safe harbor. For buildings that initially cost $1 million or less, qualified small businesses may elect to deduct the lesser of $10,000 or 2% of the unadjusted basis of the property for repairs, maintenance, improvements and similar activities each year. A qualified small business is generally one with gross receipts of $10 million or less.

More to Learn

To learn more about these safe harbors and other ways to maximize your tangible property deductions, contact us.

Deducting Charitable Gifts Depends on a Variety of Factors

Whether you’re planning to claim charitable deductions on your 2018 return or make donations for 2019, be sure you know how much you’re allowed to deduct. Your deduction depends on more than just the actual amount you donate.


What You Give

Among the biggest factors affecting your deduction is what you give. For example:

Cash or ordinary-income property. You may deduct the amount of gifts made by check, credit card or payroll deduction. For stocks and bonds held one year or less, inventory, and property subject to depreciation recapture, you generally may deduct only the lesser of fair market value or your tax basis.

Long-term capital gains property. You may deduct the current fair market value of appreciated stocks and bonds held for more than one year.

Tangible personal property. Your deduction depends on the situation. If the property isn’t related to the charity’s tax-exempt function (such as a painting donated for a charity auction), your deduction is limited to your basis. But if the property is related to the charity’s tax-exempt function (such as a painting donated to a museum for its collection), you can deduct the fair market value.

Vehicle. Unless the vehicle is being used by the charity, you generally may deduct only the amount the charity receives when it sells the vehicle.

Use of property or provision of services. Examples include use of a vacation home and a loan of artwork. Generally, you receive no deduction because it isn’t considered a completed gift. When providing services, you may deduct only your out-of-pocket expenses, not the fair market value of your services. You can deduct 14 cents per charitable mile driven.

Other Factors

First, you’ll benefit from the charitable deduction only if you itemize deductions rather than claim the standard deduction. Also, your annual charitable deductions may be reduced if they exceed certain income-based limits.

In addition, your deduction generally must be reduced by the value of any benefit received from the charity. Finally, various substantiation requirements apply, and the charity must be eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

Planning Ahead

For 2018 through 2025, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubles the standard deduction ― plus, it limits or eliminates some common itemized deductions. As a result, you may no longer have enough itemized deductions to exceed the standard deduction, in which case your charitable donations won’t save you tax.

You might be able to preserve your charitable deduction by “bunching” donations into alternating years, so that you’ll exceed the standard deduction and can claim a charitable deduction (and other itemized deductions) every other year.

The Years Ahead

Your charitable giving strategy may need to change in light of tax law reform or other factors. Let us know if you have questions about how much you can deduct on your 2018 return or what’s best to do in the years ahead.

Weigh the Tax Impact of Income vs. Growth When Investing

As the 2018 tax-filing season heats up, investors have much to consider. Whether you structured your portfolio to emphasize income over growth — or vice versa, or perhaps a balance of the two — will have a substantial impact on your tax liability. Let’s take a look at a couple of the most significant “big picture” issues that affect income vs. growth.


Differing Dividends

One benefit of dividends is that they may qualify for preferential long-term capital gains tax rates. For the 2018 tax year, the top rate is 20% for high-income taxpayers (income of $425,800 or more). For those with incomes between $38,601 and $425,800, the rate is 15%. Individuals with incomes of $38,600 and below pay 0% on long-term capital gains.

Keep in mind, however, that only “qualified dividends” are eligible for these rates. Nonqualified dividends are taxed as ordinary income at rates as high as 37% for 2018. Qualified dividends must meet two requirements. First, the dividends must be paid by a U.S. corporation or a qualified foreign corporation. Second, the stock must be held for at least 61 days during the 121-day period that starts 60 days before the ex-dividend date and ends 60 days after that date.

A qualified foreign corporation is one that’s organized in a U.S. possession or in a country that has a current tax treaty with the United States, or whose stock is readily tradable on an established U.S. market. The ex-dividend date is the cutoff date for declared dividends. Investors who purchase stock on or after that date won’t receive a dividend payment.

Timing is Everything

One disadvantage of dividend-paying stocks (or mutual funds that invest in dividend-paying stocks) is that they accelerate taxes. Regardless of how long you hold the stock, you’ll owe taxes on dividends as they’re paid, which erodes your returns over time.

When you invest in growth stocks (or mutual funds that invest in growth stocks), you generally have greater control over the timing of the tax bite. These companies tend to reinvest their profits in the companies rather than pay them out as dividends, so taxes on the appreciation in value are deferred until you sell the stock.

Keeping an Eye Out

Regardless of your investment approach, you need to understand the tax implications of various investments so you can make informed decisions. You should also keep an eye on Congress. As of this writing, further tax law reform beyond the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 isn’t on the horizon — but it’s being discussed. Contact our firm for the latest news and to discuss your tax and investment strategies.

 

Sidebar: What are your investment objectives?

When re-evaluating your investment portfolio, it’s important to consider whether your objectives have changed. There are many factors to consider, both tax and nontax. Some investors seek dividends because they need the current income or they believe that companies with a history of paying healthy dividends are better managed. Others prefer to defer taxes by investing in growth stocks. And, of course, there’s something to be said for a balanced portfolio that includes both income and growth investments. When preparing to file your 2018 taxes, take a moment to identify your objectives and determine if you met them or fell short.