Illinois’ Tax Amnesty Programs Run From October 1 to November 15, 2019

Illinois has enacted two tax amnesty laws – one covering taxes administered by the Illinois Department of Revenue, and the other covering franchise taxes and license fees administered by the Illinois Secretary of State. These acts provide taxpayers the opportunity to pay outstanding tax liabilities and receive penalty AND interest forgiveness on taxes paid in full during the amnesty period.

Taxpayers may participate in the programs any time between October 1, 2019, and November 15, 2019.

Illinois Department of Revenue – Tax Types and Periods

The program covers taxes due from periods ending after June 30, 2011, and prior to July 1, 2018.  The tax amnesty program applies to most taxes collected by the Illinois Department of Revenue such as:

  • State income tax (individual, corporate, and partnership)
  • Sales and use tax
  • Real estate transfer tax
  • Payroll withholding
  • Excise and utility taxes (telecom, hotel, liquor, utility, etc.)

To report a tax (or additional tax) liability, you’ll need to file an original or amended tax return and make full payment of the tax during the amnesty period.  If the tax due has been referred to a private collection agency, payment must be made to the private collection agency.

Illinois Secretary of State – Tax Types and Periods

The program covers franchise taxes and license fee liabilities for any tax period ending after March 15, 2008, and on or before June 30, 2019.  Eligible tax liabilities include:

  • Unreported increases to paid-in capital
  • Initial and annual franchise taxes

Participants eligible for the franchise tax amnesty program include Illinois corporations, foreign (e.g., Delaware) corporations authorized to transact business in Illinois, and all foreign corporations that have been transacting business in Illinois without authority.  To participate, you’ll need to file a one-page amnesty petition that sets forth all the documents filed under the amnesty program and make full payment of the tax during the amnesty period.

If you have questions about whether you qualify for these programs, please contact your local Scheffel Boyle office.

Mortgage Matters: To Pay Down or Not to Pay Down

If you’re a homeowner and manage your finances well, you might have extra cash after you’ve paid your monthly bills. What should you do with this extra money? Some would say make additional mortgage payments toward your principal to pay off your mortgage early. Others would say: No, invest those dollars in the stock market!

The decision is very much about risk vs. return. There’s little, if any, risk in prepaying a mortgage, because you already know what your rate of return will be: the interest rate on your mortgage. For instance, if your mortgage interest rate is 4.5%, this would be the return earned by every dollar that goes toward prepayment (not factoring in the mortgage interest deduction if you qualify).

However, if you invest the money in the stock market, you’ll assume much more risk. The level of risk depends on the assets you invest in, but there’s no such thing as a risk-free investment.

Your mortgage interest rate is indeed an important factor. If your rate is relatively low, so is the return from prepaying your mortgage. The final decision for many people comes down to whether they believe they can earn a higher return investing the money than they would prepaying their mortgage.

Clearly there’s the potential to outperform your mortgage interest rate by investing your money for the long term. Remember, though, that the stock market may be volatile in the short term and offers no guarantees.

There’s no single answer to the “pay down the mortgage or invest in the market?” question. We can provide additional, more specific guidance on making the right decision for you.

Cost Segregation Studies Can Benefit Business Owners

Any business owner who’s acquired, constructed or substantially improved a building this year — or even in previous years — should read up on the tax benefits of a cost segregation study. Undertaking one may allow you to accelerate depreciation deductions, which reduce current taxes and boost cash flow.


Real vs. Tangible

IRS rules generally allow you to depreciate commercial buildings over 39 years. Most times, you’ll depreciate a building’s structural components (such as walls, windows, HVAC systems, elevators, plumbing and wiring) along with the building, and therefore over its same recovery period. Personal property (such as equipment, machinery, furniture and fixtures) is eligible for accelerated depreciation, usually over five or seven years. And land improvements (fences, outdoor lighting and parking lots, for example) are depreciable over 15 years.

Too often, businesses allocate all or most of a building’s acquisition or construction costs to real property, overlooking opportunities to allocate costs to shorter-lived personal property or land improvements. A cost segregation study combines accounting and engineering techniques to identify building costs that are properly allocable to tangible personal property rather than real property.

Enhanced Breaks

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enhanced certain depreciation-related tax breaks, which has in turn renewed interest in cost segregation studies. Among other things, the act permanently increased limits on Section 179 expensing. Sec. 179 allows you to immediately deduct the entire cost of qualifying equipment or other fixed assets up to specified thresholds.

Furthermore, it increased first-year bonus depreciation from 50% to 100% for qualified property acquired and placed in service after September 27, 2017, and before January 1, 2023.

Consider It

Under the right circumstances, a cost segregation study can yield substantial tax benefits. But every business may not need to undertake the time, energy and expense to conduct one. To find out whether a study would be worthwhile for your company, contact us.

Look Out for These Upcoming Tax Deadlines!

October 15 — Personal federal income tax returns for 2018 that received an automatic six-month extension must be filed today and any tax, interest and penalties due must be paid.
  • The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) Report 114, “Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts” (FBAR), must be filed by today, if not filed already, for offshore bank account reporting. (This report received an automatic extension to today if not filed by the original due date of April 15.)
  • If a six-month extension was obtained, calendar-year C corporations should file their 2018 Form 1120 by this date.
  • If the monthly deposit rule applies, employers must deposit the tax for payments in September for Social Security, Medicare, withheld income tax and nonpayroll withholding.

October 31 — The third quarter Form 941 (“Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return”) is due today and any undeposited tax must be deposited. (If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return.) If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until November 12 to file the return.

  • If you have employees, a federal unemployment tax (FUTA) deposit is due if the FUTA liability through September exceeds $500.

November 15 — If the monthly deposit rule applies, employers must deposit the tax for payments in October for Social Security, Medicare, withheld income tax and nonpayroll withholding.

December 16 — Calendar-year corporations must deposit the fourth installment of estimated income tax for 2019.

  • If the monthly deposit rule applies, employers must deposit the tax for payments in November for Social Security, Medicare, withheld income tax and nonpayroll withholding.

Is “Bunching” Medical Expenses Still Feasible in 2019?

Some medical expenses may be tax deductible, but only if you itemize deductions and you have enough expenses to exceed the applicable floor for deductibility. With proper planning, you may be able to time controllable medical expenses to your tax advantage.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) made bunching such expenses beneficial for some taxpayers. At the same time, certain taxpayers who’ve benefited from the medical expense deduction in previous years might no longer benefit because of the TCJA’s increase to the standard deduction.

The Changes

Various limits apply to most tax deductions, and one type of limit is a “floor,” which means expenses are deductible only to the extent that they exceed that floor (typically a specific percentage of your income). One example of a tax break with a floor is the medical expense deduction.

Because it can be difficult to exceed the floor, a common strategy is to “bunch” deductible expenses into one year where possible. The TCJA reduced the floor for the medical expense deduction for 2017 and 2018 from 10% to 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI).

However, beginning January 1, 2019, taxpayers may once again deduct only the amount of the unreimbursed allowable medical care expenses for the year that exceeds 10% of their AGI. Medical expenses that aren’t reimbursed by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account (such as a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account) may be deductible.

Itemized Deductions

If your total itemized deductions won’t exceed your standard deduction, bunching medical expenses into 2019 won’t save you tax. The TCJA nearly doubled the standard deduction. For 2019, it’s $12,200 for singles and married couples filing separately, $18,350 for heads of households, and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly.

If your total itemized deductions for 2019 will exceed your standard deduction, then bunching nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into 2019 may allow you to exceed the floor and benefit from the medical expense deduction. Controllable expenses might include prescription drugs, eyeglasses, contact lenses, hearing aids, dental work, and some types of elective surgery.

Exploring the Concept

As mentioned, bunching doesn’t work for everyone. For help determining whether you could benefit, please contact us.

Step Carefully with Loans Between a Business and its Owner

It’s common for owners of closely held businesses to transfer money into and out of the company. But it’s critical to make such transfers properly. If you don’t, you might hear from the IRS.


Why Loans are Better

When an owner withdraws funds from the company, the transfer can be characterized as compensation, a distribution or a loan. Loans aren’t taxable, but compensation is and distributions may be taxable.

If the company is a C corporation, distributions can trigger double taxation — in other words, corporate earnings are taxed once at the corporate level and then again when they’re distributed to shareholders (as dividends). Compensation is deductible by the corporation, so it doesn’t result in double taxation. (But it will be subject to payroll taxes.)

If the business is an S corporation or other pass-through entity, there’s no entity-level tax, so double taxation won’t be an issue. Still, loans are advantageous because compensation would be taxable to the owner (and incurs payroll taxes), and distributions, even though maybe not taxable themselves, would reduce an owner’s tax basis, which makes it much harder to deduct business losses.

There are also some advantages to treating advances from owners as loans. If they’re treated as contributions to equity, for example, any reimbursements by the company may be treated as distributions and possibly be taxable in a C corporation situation.

Loan payments, on the other hand, aren’t taxable, apart from the interest, which is deductible by the company. A loan may also give the owner an advantage in the event of the company’s bankruptcy, because debt obligations are paid before equity is returned.

How to Define It

Establishing that an advance or a withdrawal is truly a loan is important. If you don’t make that distinction, and the IRS determines that a payment from the business is really a distribution or compensation, you (and, possibly, the company) could end up owing back taxes, penalties and interest.

Whether a transaction is a loan is a matter of intent. It’s a loan if the borrower has an unconditional intent to repay the amount received and the lender has an unconditional intent to obtain repayment.

Unfortunately, even if you intend for a transaction to be a loan, the IRS and the courts aren’t mind readers. So, it’s critical that you document any loans and treat them like other arm’s-length transactions. Among other things, you should execute a promissory note and charge a commercially reasonable rate of interest — generally, no less than the applicable federal rate.

Set and follow a fixed repayment schedule and secure the loan using appropriate collateral. (This will also give the lender bankruptcy priority over unsecured creditors.) And you must treat the transaction as a loan in the company’s books. Last, you must ensure that the lender makes reasonable efforts to collect in case of default. Also, for borrowers who are owner-employees, you need to ensure that they receive reasonable salaries, to avoid a claim by the IRS that loans are disguised compensation.

Looking Good

The IRS keeps a wary eye on business owners who borrow from themselves. We can help you through the process to withstand the scrutiny of the agency’s gaze.

Four Types of Information You Need to Prepare For Disaster

When you read the phrase “disaster prep,” you may envision bottled water and boarded-up windows. But information is also a critical asset to have following a natural or manmade catastrophe. Here are four specific types of information you need:
  1. Personal identification records. These documents will enable you to prove the identity of your family members, maintain contact with relatives and employers, and apply for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (if necessary) after a disaster. These records include driver’s licenses, birth certificates, marriage and divorce licenses, passports, and Social Security cards.
  2. Financial and legal documentation. This category includes documents related to financial accounts, insurance policies, your estate (for example, your last will and testament), and your tax and ongoing financial obligations, such as your mortgage, car payments and credit cards. You will still be responsible for these obligations after a disaster, so make sure you can access these documents easily.
  3. Medical information. This includes the names and contact information for your doctors, copies of health insurance policies and identification cards, immunization records, a list of medications you take, and copies of current prescriptions. Such information could be crucial in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.
  4. Important financial contacts. There may be several different professional advisors you’ll want to contact as soon as possible quickly following a catastrophe. They likely include your insurance agent, attorney, CPA, bank representative and investment advisor. Store their contact information in your mobile phone or, better yet, in a cloud data storage server so you can access it from anywhere.

How Businesses Can Assess Risk of Worker Misclassification

Classifying a worker as an independent contractor frees a business from its portion of payroll tax liability and allows it to forgo providing overtime pay, unemployment compensation and other employee benefits. It also frees the business from responsibility for withholding income taxes and the worker’s share of payroll taxes.

For these reasons, the federal government looks unfavorably on misclassifying a bona fide employee as an independent contractor. If the IRS reclassifies a worker as an employee, your business could be hit with back taxes, interest and penalties.

Key Factors

When assessing worker classification, the IRS typically looks at the:

Level of behavioral control. The more control the company exercises, the more likely the worker is an employee. So, the IRS looks at the extent to which the company instructs a worker on when, where and how to work; what tools or equipment to use; where to purchase supplies and so on.

Level of financial control. Independent contractors are more likely to invest in their own equipment or facilities, incur unreimbursed business expenses, and market their services to other customers. Employees are more likely to be paid hourly, weekly or bimonthly; independent contractors are more likely to receive a flat fee.

Relationship of the parties. Independent contractors are often engaged for a specific project, while employees are typically hired permanently (or at least for an indefinite period). Also, workers who serve a key business function are more likely to be classified as employees.

The IRS examines a variety of factors within each category, as well as the totality of facts and circumstances.

Protective Measures

When in doubt, reclassify questionable independent contractors as employees. This may increase your tax and benefits costs, but it will eliminate reclassification risk.

From there, modify your relationships with independent contractors to better ensure compliance. For example, you might exercise less behavioral control by reducing your level of supervision or allowing workers to set their own hours or work from home.

Also, consider using an employee-leasing company. Workers leased from these firms are employees of the leasing company, which is responsible for taxes, benefits and other employer obligations.

Handle With Care

Taxes, interest and penalties aren’t the only possible negative consequences of a worker being reclassified as an employee. Your business also could be liable for employee benefits that should have been provided but weren’t. Contact us if you have questions about worker classification.

Double Up On Tax Benefits by Donating Appreciated Artwork

From a tax perspective, appreciated artwork can make one of the best charitable gifts. Generally, donating appreciated property is doubly beneficial because you can both enjoy a valuable tax deduction and avoid the capital gains taxes you’d owe if you sold the property.

The extra benefit from donating artwork comes from the fact that the top long-term capital gains rate for art and other “collectibles” is 28%, as opposed to 20% for most other appreciated property.

Requirements

The first thing to keep in mind if you’re considering a donation of artwork is that you must itemize deductions to deduct charitable contributions. Now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has nearly doubled the standard deduction and put tighter limits on many itemized deductions (but not the charitable deduction), many taxpayers who have itemized in the past will no longer benefit from itemizing.

For 2019, the standard deduction is $12,200 for singles, $18,350 for heads of households and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly. Your total itemized deductions must exceed the applicable standard deduction for you to enjoy a tax benefit from donating artwork.

Something else to be aware of is that most artwork donations require a “qualified appraisal” by a “qualified appraiser.” IRS rules contain detailed requirements about the qualifications an appraiser must possess and the contents of an appraisal.

IRS auditors are required to refer all gifts of art valued at $50,000 or more to the IRS Art Advisory Panel. The panel’s findings are the IRS’s official position on the art’s value, so it’s critical to provide a solid appraisal to support your valuation.

Finally, note that, if you own both the work of art and the copyright to the work, you must assign the copyright to the charity to qualify for a charitable deduction.

Deduction Tips

The charity you choose and how the charity will use the artwork can have a significant impact on your tax deduction. Donations of artwork to a public charity, such as a museum or university with public charity status, can entitle you to deduct the artwork’s full fair market value. If you donate art to a private foundation, however, your deduction will be limited to your cost.

For your donation to a public charity to qualify for a full fair-market-value deduction, the charity’s use of the donated artwork must be related to its tax-exempt purpose. If, for example, you donate a painting to a museum for display or to a university’s art history department for use in its research, you’ll satisfy the related-use rule. But if you donate it to, say, a children’s hospital to auction off at its annual fundraising gala, you won’t satisfy the rule.

Careful Planning

To reap the maximum tax benefit of donating appreciated artwork, you must plan your gift carefully and follow all applicable rules. Contact us for help.

The Tax Cost of Divorce Has Risen for Many

Are you divorced or in the process of divorcing? If so, it’s critical to understand how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has changed the tax treatment of alimony. Unfortunately, for many couples, the news isn’t good — the tax cost of divorce has risen.

What’s Changed?

Under previous rules, a taxpayer who paid alimony was entitled to a deduction for payments made during the year. The deduction was “above-the-line,” which was a big advantage, because there was no need to itemize. The payments were included in the recipient spouse’s gross income.

The TCJA essentially reverses the tax treatment of alimony, effective for divorce or separation instruments executed after 2018. In other words, alimony payments are no longer deductible by the payer and are excluded from the recipient’s gross income.

What’s the Impact?

The TCJA will likely cause alimony awards to decrease for post-2018 divorces or separations. Paying spouses will argue that, without the benefit of the alimony deduction, they can’t afford to pay as much as under previous rules. The ability of recipients to exclude alimony from income will at least partially offset the decrease, but many recipients will be worse off under the new rules.

For example, let’s say John and Lori divorced in 2018. John is in the 35% federal income tax bracket and Lori is a stay-at-home mom with no income who cares for John and Lori’s two children. The court ordered John to pay Lori $100,000 per year in alimony. He’s entitled to deduct the payments, so the after-tax cost to him is $65,000. Presuming Lori qualifies to file as head of household, and the children qualify for the full child credit, Lori’s net federal tax on the alimony payments (after the child credit) is approximately $8,600, leaving her with $91,400 in after-tax income.

Suppose, under the same circumstances, that John and Lori divorce in 2019. John argues that, without the alimony deduction, he can afford to pay only $65,000, and the court agrees. The payments are tax-free to Lori, but she’s still left with $26,400 less than she would have received under pre-TCJA rules.

The pre-2019 rules can create a tax benefit by reducing the divorced couple’s overall tax liability (assuming the recipient is in a lower tax bracket). The new rules eliminate this tax advantage. Of course, if the recipient is in a higher tax bracket than the payer, a couple is better off under the new rules.

What To Do?

If you’re contemplating a divorce or separation, be sure to familiarize yourself with the post-TCJA divorce-related tax rules. Or, if you’re already divorced or separated, determine whether you would benefit by applying the new rules to your alimony payments through a modification of your divorce or separation instrument. (See “What if you’re already divorced?”) We can help you sort out the details.

 

Sidebar: What if you’re already divorced?

Existing divorce or separation instruments, including those executed during 2018, aren’t affected by the TCJA changes. The previous rules still apply unless a modification expressly provides that the TCJA rules must be followed. However, spouses who would benefit from the TCJA rules — for example, because their relative income levels have changed — may voluntarily apply them if the modification expressly provides for such treatment.