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

You’ve Got Time: Small Businesses Can Still Set Up a 2018 SEP Plan

Are you a high-income small-business owner who doesn’t currently have a tax-advantaged retirement plan set up for yourself? A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan may be just what you need, and now may be a great time to establish one.

A SEP plan has high contribution limits and is simple to set up. Best of all, there’s still time to establish one for 2018 and make contributions to it that you can deduct on your 2018 income tax return.

2019 Deadlines for 2018

A SEP plan can be set up as late as the due date (including extensions) of your income tax return for the tax year for which the plan is to first apply. That means you can establish a plan for 2018 in 2019 if you do it before your 2018 return filing deadline. You have until the same deadline to make 2018 contributions and still claim a potentially hefty deduction on your 2018 return.

Generally, other types of retirement plans would have to have been established by December 31, 2018, for 2018 contributions to be made (though many of these plans do allow 2018 contributions to be made in 2019).

High Contribution Limits

Contributions to SEP plans are discretionary. You can decide how much to contribute each year. But be aware that, if your business has employees other than you, 1) contributions must be made for all eligible employees using the same percentage of compensation as for you, and 2) employee accounts are immediately 100% vested. The contributions go into SEP-IRAs established for each eligible employee.

For 2018, the maximum contribution that can be made to a SEP-IRA is 25% of compensation (or 20% of self-employed income net of the self-employment tax deduction) of up to $275,000, subject to a contribution cap of $55,000. (The 2019 limits are $280,000 and $56,000, respectively.)

Simple to Set Up

A SEP plan is established by completing and signing the very simple Form 5305-SEP (“Simplified Employee Pension — Individual Retirement Accounts Contribution Agreement”). Form 5305-SEP isn’t filed with the IRS, but it should be maintained as part of the business’s permanent tax records. A copy of the form must be given to each employee covered by the plan, along with a disclosure statement.

Because of their simplicity and the great flexibility you have in making contributions, SEP plans are good “starter” retirement plans for small businesses. They’re also well suited for cash-flow dependent businesses such as construction companies, restaurants and seasonal businesses that may not always have dollars at the ready to contribute.

Less Onerous

Additional rules and limits do apply to these plans, but they’re generally much less onerous than those for other retirement plans. Contact us to learn more about SEP plans and how they might reduce your tax bill for 2018 and beyond.

Multistate Resident? Watch Out For Double Taxation

Contrary to popular belief, there’s nothing in the U.S. Constitution or federal law that prohibits multiple states from collecting tax on the same income. Although many states provide tax credits to prevent double taxation, those credits are sometimes unavailable. If you maintain residences in more than one state, here are some points to keep in mind.


Domicile vs. Residence

Generally, if you’re “domiciled” in a state, you’re subject to that state’s income tax on your worldwide income. Your domicile isn’t necessarily where you spend most of your time. Rather, it’s the location of your “true, fixed, permanent home” or the place “to which you intend to return whenever absent.” Your domicile doesn’t change — even if you spend little or no time there — until you establish domicile elsewhere.

Residence, on the other hand, is based on the amount of time you spend in a state. You’re a resident if you have a “permanent place of abode” in a state and spend a minimum amount of time there — for example, at least 183 days per year. Many states impose their income taxes on residents’ worldwide income even if they’re domiciled in another state.

Potential Solution

Suppose you live in State A and work in State B. Given the length of your commute, you keep an apartment in State B near your office and return to your home in State A only on weekends. State A taxes you as a domiciliary, while State B taxes you as a resident. Neither state offers a credit for taxes paid to another state, so your income is taxed twice.

One possible solution to such double taxation is to avoid maintaining a permanent place of abode in State B. However, State B may still have the power to tax your income from the job in State B because it’s derived from a source within the state. Yet State B wouldn’t be able to tax your income from other sources, such as investments you made in State A.

Minimize Unnecessary Taxes

This example illustrates just one way double taxation can arise when you divide your time between two or more states. We can research applicable state law and identify ways to minimize exposure to unnecessary taxes.

 

Sidebar: How to Establish Domicile

Under the law of each state, tax credits are available only with respect to income taxes that are “properly due” to another state. But, when two states each claim you as a domiciliary, neither believes that taxes are properly due to the other. To avoid double taxation in this situation, you’ll need to demonstrate your intent to abandon your domicile in one state and establish it in the other.

There are various ways to do so. For example, you might obtain a driver’s license and register your car in the new state. You could also open bank accounts in the new state and use your new address for important financially related documents (such as insurance policies, tax returns, passports and wills). Other effective measures may include registering to vote in the new jurisdiction, subscribing to local newspapers and seeing local health care providers. Bear in mind, of course, that laws regarding domicile vary from state to state.

Fewer Taxpayers to Qualify for Home Office Deduction

Working from home has become commonplace for people in many jobs. But just because you have a home office space doesn’t mean you can deduct expenses associated with it. Beginning with the 2018 tax year, fewer taxpayers will qualify for the home office deduction. Here’s why.


Changes Under the TCJA

For employees, home office expenses used to be a miscellaneous itemized deduction. Way back in 2017, this meant one could enjoy a tax benefit only if these expenses plus other miscellaneous itemized expenses (such as unreimbursed work-related travel, certain professional fees and investment expenses) exceeded 2% of adjusted gross income.

Starting in 2018 and continuing through 2025, however, employees can’t deduct any home office expenses. Why? The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) suspends miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2% floor for this period.

Note: If you’re self-employed, you can still deduct eligible home office expenses against your self-employment income during the 2018 through 2025 period.

Other Eligibility Requirements

If you’re self-employed, generally your home office must be your principal place of business, though there are exceptions.

Whether you’re an employee or self-employed, the space must be used regularly (not just occasionally) and exclusively for business purposes. If, for example, your home office is also a guest bedroom or your children do their homework there, you can’t deduct the expenses associated with that space.

Deduction Options

If eligible, you have two options for claiming the home office deduction. First, you can deduct a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, utilities and certain other expenses, as well as the depreciation allocable to the office space. This requires calculating, allocating and substantiating actual expenses.

A second approach is to take the “safe harbor” deduction. Here, only one simple calculation is necessary: $5 multiplied by the number of square feet of the office space. The safe harbor deduction is capped at $1,500 per year, based on a maximum of 300 square feet.

More Rules and Limits

Be aware that we’ve covered only a few of the rules and limits here. If you think you may qualify for the home office deduction on your 2018 return or would like to know if there’s anything additional you need to do to become eligible, contact us.

Seven Ways to Prevent Elder Financial Abuse

As tax season ramps up, so do the efforts of scam artists looking to steal people’s financial data and money. Such fraudulent activities often target older adults. Whether you’re in this age bracket or worry about senior parents and other relatives, here are seven ways to prevent elder financial abuse:
  1. Keep both paper and online financial documents in a secure place. Monitor accounts and retain statements.
  2. Exercise caution when making financial decisions. If someone exerts pressure or promises unreasonably high or guaranteed returns, walk away.
  3. Write checks only to legitimate financial institutions, rather than to a person.
  4. Be alert for phony phone calls. The IRS doesn’t collect money this way. Another scam involves someone pretending to be a grandchild who’s in trouble and needs money. Don’t provide confidential information or send money until you can verify the caller’s identity.
  5. Beware of emails requesting personal data — even if they appear to be from a real financial institution. After all, shouldn’t your banker or financial professional already know these things? Ignore contact information provided in the email. Instead, contact the financial institution through a known telephone number.
  6. As much as possible, maintain a social network. Criminals target isolated people because often they’re less aware of scams and lack trusted confidants.
  7. Work only with qualified professionals, including accountants, bankers and attorneys.

How to Trim Fat From Your Inventory

Inventory is expensive, so it needs to be as lean as possible. Here are some ways to trim the fat from your inventory without compromising revenue and customer service.


Objective Inventory Counts

Effective inventory management starts with a physical inventory count. Accuracy is essential to knowing your cost of goods sold — and to identifying and remedying discrepancies between your physical count and perpetual inventory records. A CPA can introduce an element of objectivity to the counting process and help minimize errors.

The next step is to compare your inventory costs to those of other companies in your industry. Trade associations often publish benchmarks for:

  • Gross margin ([revenue – cost of sales] / revenue),
  • Net profit margin (net income / revenue), and
  • Days in inventory (annual revenue / average inventory × 365 days).

Your company should strive to meet — or beat — industry standards. For a retailer or wholesaler, inventory is simply purchased from the manufacturer. But the inventory account is more complicated for manufacturers and construction firms. It’s a function of raw materials, labor and overhead costs.

The composition of your company’s cost of goods will guide you on where to cut. In a tight labor market, it’s hard to reduce labor costs. But it may be possible to renegotiate prices with suppliers.

And don’t forget the carrying costs of inventory, such as storage, insurance, obsolescence and pilferage. You can also improve margins by negotiating a net lease for your warehouse, installing antitheft devices or opting for less expensive insurance coverage.

Product Mix

To cut your days-in-inventory ratio, compute product-by-product margins. Stock more products with high margins and high demand — and less of everything else. Whenever possible, return excessive supplies of slow-moving materials or products to your suppliers.

Product mix should be sufficiently broad and in tune with consumer needs. Before cutting back on inventory, you might need to negotiate speedier delivery from suppliers or give suppliers access to your perpetual inventory system. These precautionary measures can help prevent lost sales due to lean inventory.

Reality Check

Often management is so focused on sales, HR issues and product innovation that they lose control over inventory. Contact us for a reality check.

Installment Sales: A Viable Option for Transferring Assets

Are you considering transferring real estate, a family business or other assets you expect to appreciate dramatically in the future? If so, an installment sale may be a viable option. Its benefits include the ability to freeze asset values for estate tax purposes and remove future appreciation from your taxable estate.


Giving Away vs. Selling

From an estate planning perspective, if you have a taxable estate it’s usually more advantageous to give property to your children than to sell it to them. By gifting the asset you’ll be depleting your estate and thereby reducing potential estate tax liability, whereas in a sale the proceeds generally will be included in your taxable estate.

But an installment sale may be desirable if you’ve already used up your $11.18 million (for 2018) lifetime gift tax exemption or if your cash flow needs preclude you from giving the property away outright. When you sell property at fair market value to your children or other loved ones rather than gifting it, you avoid gift taxes on the transfer and freeze the property’s value for estate tax purposes as of the sale date. All future appreciation benefits the buyer and won’t be included in your taxable estate.

Because the transaction is structured as a sale rather than a gift, your buyer must have the financial resources to buy the property. But by using an installment note, the buyer can make the payments over time. Ideally, the purchased property will generate enough income to fund these payments.

Advantages and Disadvantages

An advantage of an installment sale is that it gives you the flexibility to design a payment schedule that corresponds with the property’s cash flow, as well as with your and your buyer’s financial needs. You can arrange for the payments to increase or decrease over time, or even provide for interest-only payments with an end-of-term balloon payment of the principal.

One disadvantage of an installment sale over strategies that involve gifted property is that you’ll be subject to tax on any capital gains you recognize from the sale. Fortunately, you can spread this tax liability over the term of the installment note. As of this writing, the long-term capital gains rates are 0%, 15% or 20%, depending on the amount of your net long-term capital gains plus your ordinary income.

Also, you’ll have to charge interest on the note and pay ordinary income tax on the interest payments. IRS guidelines provide for a minimum rate of interest that must be paid on the note. On the bright side, any capital gains and ordinary income tax you pay further reduces the size of your taxable estate.

Simple Technique, Big Benefits

An installment sale is an approach worth exploring for business owners, real estate investors and others who have gathered high-value assets. It can help keep a family-owned business in the family or otherwise play an important role in your estate plan.

Bear in mind, however, that this simple technique isn’t right for everyone. We can review your situation and help you determine whether an installment sale is a wise move for you.