Social Security Administration Scam Calls

Our offices have received a few client calls this holiday season concerned about phone calls they recently received from someone claiming to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The “SSA” said they were calling due to a computer problem and explained that they needed to verify our client’s social security number and other personal information. Obtaining your social security number is a surefire way for scammers to create a world of problems for you. Your social security number is a key piece of information used to steal your identity. If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the SSA needing to verify your information, don’t give it out!

The actual SSA published a blog post about this malicious activity earlier this year, and it has some great advice on what to do if you receive one of these scam calls.

Is a PTO Contribution Arrangement Right for Your Business?

Many businesses find themselves short-staffed from Thanksgiving through December 31 as workers scramble to use, rather than lose, their remaining time off. Indeed, your workplace may resemble a ghost town if you limit how many vacation days employees can roll over to the new year. A paid time off (PTO) contribution arrangement may be the solution.

A PTO contribution program allows employees with unused vacation hours to elect to convert them to retirement plan contributions. If the plan has a 401(k) feature, it can treat these amounts as a pretax benefit, similar to normal employee deferrals. Alternatively, the plan can treat the amounts as employer profit sharing, converting excess PTO amounts to employer contributions.

A PTO contribution arrangement may be a better option than increasing the number of days employees can roll over. Larger rollover limits can result in employees building up large balances that create a significant liability on your books.

To offer a PTO contribution arrangement, simply amend your 401(k) plan. However, you must still follow the plan document’s eligibility, vesting, rollover, distribution and loan terms. Additional rules may apply. To learn more about PTO contribution arrangements, including their tax implications, please contact us.

Accelerating Your Property Tax Deduction

Smart timing of deductible expenses can reduce your tax liability, and poor timing can increase it unnecessarily. One deductible expense you may be able to control to your advantage is your property tax payment.

You can prepay (by December 31) property taxes that relate to 2018 (the taxes must be assessed in 2018) but that are due in 2019, and deduct the payment on your return for this year. But you generally can’t prepay property taxes that relate to 2019 (they must be assessed in 2019) and deduct the payment on this year’s return. Also beware of the dollar-amount limitation discussed below.

A Big Decision

Accelerating deductible expenses such as property tax payments is typically beneficial. Prepaying your property tax may be especially advantageous if your tax rate under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) is expected to decrease in the next year. Deductions save more tax when tax rates are higher.

But not every tax rate has dropped for the 2018 tax year under the TCJA — the very lowest rate, 10%, has been retained, as well as the 35% rate (though the income brackets for these rates have changed). So, some taxpayers may not save any more by prepaying. Also, taxpayers who expect to substantially increase their income next year, pushing them into a higher tax bracket, may benefit by not prepaying their property tax bill.

Another important point is that, under the TCJA, for tax years 2018 through 2025 the itemized deduction for all state and local taxes is limited to $10,000 ($5,000 for married filing separately).

More Considerations

Property tax isn’t deductible for purposes of the alternative minimum tax (AMT). So, if you’re subject to the AMT this year, a prepayment may hurt you because you’ll lose the benefit of the deduction. Before prepaying your property tax, make sure you aren’t at AMT risk for 2018.

Also, don’t forget that, for 2018 to 2025, the TCJA suspends personal itemized exemptions but roughly doubles the standard deduction amounts (for 2018) to $12,000 for singles and separate filers, $18,000 for heads of households, and $24,000 for joint filers. This may affect your decision on whether to prepay.

Specific Strategies

Not sure whether you should prepay your property tax bill or what other deductions you might be able to accelerate into 2018 (or should consider deferring to 2019)? Contact us. We can help you determine your optimal year-end tax planning strategies.

Use Capital Losses to Offset Capital Gains

When is a loss actually a gain? When that loss becomes an opportunity to lower tax liability, of course. Now’s a good time to begin your year-end tax planning and attempt to neutralize gains and losses by year end. To do so, it might make sense to sell investments at a loss in 2018 to offset capital gains that you’ve already realized this year.


Now and Later

A capital loss occurs when you sell a security for less than your “basis,” generally the original purchase price. You can use capital losses to offset any capital gains you realize in that same tax year — even if one is short term and the other is long term.

When your capital losses exceed your capital gains, you can use up to $3,000 of the excess to offset wages, interest and other ordinary income ($1,500 for married people filing separately) and carry the remainder forward to future years until it’s used up.

Research and Replace

Years ago, investors realized it could be beneficial to sell a security to recognize a capital loss for a given tax year and then — if they still liked the security’s prospects — buy it back immediately. To counter this strategy, Congress imposed the wash sale rule, which disallows losses when an investor sells a security and then buys the same or a “substantially identical” security within 30 days of the sale, before or after.

Waiting 30 days to repurchase a security you’ve sold might be fine in some situations. But there may be times when you’d rather not be forced to sit on the sidelines for a month.

Fortunately, there’s an alternative. With a little research, you might be able to identify a security in the same sector you like just as well as, or better than, the old one. Your solution is now simple and straightforward: Simultaneously sell the stock you own at a loss and buy the competitor’s stock, thereby avoiding violation of the “same or substantially identical” provision of the wash sale rule. You maintain your position in that sector or industry and might even add to your portfolio a stock you believe has more potential or less risk.

If you bought shares of a security at different times, give some thought to which lot can be sold most advantageously. The IRS allows investors to choose among several methods of designating lots when selling securities, and those methods sometimes produce radically different results.

Good With the Bad

Investing always carries the risk that you will lose some or even all of your money. But you have to take the good with the bad. In terms of tax planning, you can turn investment losses into opportunities — and potentially end the year on a high note.

An Intrafamily Loan is Worth Careful Consideration

Lending money — rather than giving it — to loved ones is an idea worth considering. Perhaps you’re not ready to part with your wealth. For example, maybe you’re concerned about having enough money to fund your retirement or you feel that your children aren’t ready to handle the responsibility.

Intrafamily loans allow you to provide family members with financial support while hanging on to your nest egg and encouraging your children to be financially responsible.

How does it work?

The key to transferring wealth is the borrower’s ability to take advantage of investment opportunities that offer relatively high returns. In other words, after paying back the principal, the borrower essentially receives the “spread” between the investment returns and the loan interest — free of gift and estate taxes.

With this in mind, when you lend money to family members, it’s important to charge interest at the applicable federal rate (AFR) or higher. Otherwise you’ll trigger unintended income and gift tax consequences.

AFRs are published monthly and vary depending on whether the loan is:

  • Short-term (three years or less),
  • Mid-term (more than three years but not more than nine years) or
  • Long-term (more than nine years).

They also vary depending on how frequently interest is compounded.

Keep in mind that the loan balance is still included in your taxable estate. Even if you die before the loan is paid off, the borrower must repay the loan to your estate, though an intrafamily loan can be structured to provide that the loan will be forgiven if you die before it’s paid off.

What are the risks?

The biggest risk is that the invested funds will fail to outperform the AFR. If that happens, your child or other borrower will have to use his or her own funds to pay some or all of the interest — and, if he or she experiences a loss on the investment, even some of the principal. In other words, instead of transferring wealth to your child, your child will transfer wealth to you. As noted above, however, low AFRs minimize this risk.

There’s also a risk that the IRS will challenge the loan as a disguised gift, potentially triggering gift tax liability or using up some of your lifetime exemption. To avoid this result, you must treat the transaction as a legitimate loan. That means documenting the loan with a promissory note and adhering to its payment and enforcement terms. If, for example, your child is unable to make a payment, you should make a genuine effort to collect the funds from the child.

Who can help?

The intrafamily loan is just one of many tools available for transferring wealth to your loved ones in a tax-efficient manner. Contact us for help developing a strategy that reflects your financial situation and goals.

 

Sidebar: No-interest loans are a big no-no

When making an intrafamily loan, you must avoid the temptation to charge no interest or charge interest below the current applicable federal rate (AFR). If you do, you’ll be subject to income tax (with certain exceptions for smaller loans) on imputed interest — that is, the excess of the AFR over the interest you collect. In other words, you’ll be taxed on interest that you didn’t receive. In addition, the imputed interest will be treated as a taxable gift to the borrower.

Help Alton Fill Their Toy Barrel!

Our team in Alton is excited for their office to serve as a drop-off location for the Community Hope Center’s 2018 Toy Drive! The CHC is asking for donations from the local community of NEW and UNWRAPPED toys. Their biggest and most urgent need at this time is for larger gifts for boys or girls, ages 1-12.

Our collection barrel will be in the lobby of our Alton office (322 State Street) until it’s picked up by CHC on December 7th. If you are interested in donating, swing on by during office hours and visit our Alton team to help fill our barrel!

 

 

Year-End Tax Strategies for Accrual-Basis Businesses

The last month or so of the year offers accrual-basis taxpayers an opportunity to make some timely moves that might enable them to save money on their 2018 tax bills. The key to saving tax as an accrual-basis taxpayer is to properly record and recognize expenses that were incurred this year but won’t be paid until 2019. Doing so will enable you to deduct those expenses on your 2018 federal tax return.

Common examples of such expenses include commissions, salaries and wages; payroll taxes; advertising; and interest. Also look into expenses such as utilities, insurance and property taxes. You can also accelerate deductions into 2018 without paying for the expenses in 2018 by charging them on a credit card. (This works for cash-basis taxpayers, too.)

In addition, review all prepaid expense accounts and write off any items that have been used up before the end of the year. If you prepay insurance for a period beginning in 2018, you can expense the entire amount this year rather than spreading it between 2018 and 2019, as long as a proper method election is made. This is treated as a tax expense and thus won’t affect your internal financials.

There are many other strategies to explore. Review your outstanding receivables and write off any receivables you can establish as uncollectible. Pay interest on all shareholder loans to the company. Update your corporate record book to record decisions and be better prepared for an audit. Interested? We can provide further details on these and other year-end tax tips for accrual-basis businesses.

Getting Caught up with the Latest Catch-Up Contributions

One could say that there are only two key milestones in retirement planning: the day you begin participating in a retirement savings account and the day you begin drawing money from it. But, of course, there are others as well.

One is the day you turn 50 years old. Why? Because those age 50 or older on December 31 of any given year can start making “catch-up” contributions to their employer-sponsored retirement plans by that date. These are additional contributions to certain retirement accounts beyond the regular annual limits.

Maybe you haven’t yet saved as much for retirement as you’d like to. Or perhaps you’d just like to make the most of tax-advantaged savings opportunities. Whatever the case may be, let’s get caught up with the latest catch-up contribution amounts.

401(k)s and SIMPLEs

Under 2018 401(k) limits, if you’re age 50 or older, after you’ve reached the $18,500 maximum limit for all employees, you can contribute an extra $6,000, for a total of $24,500. If your employer offers a Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) instead, your regular contribution maxes out at $12,500 in 2018. If you’re 50 or older, you’re allowed to contribute an additional $3,000 — or $15,500 in total for the year.

But, check with your employer because, while most 401(k) plans and SIMPLEs offer catch-up contributions, not all do.

Self-Employed Plans

If you’re self-employed, retirement plans such as an individual 401(k) — or solo 401(k) — also allow catch-up contributions. A solo 401(k) is a plan for those with no other employees. You can defer 100% of your self-employment income or compensation, up to the regular yearly deferral limit of $18,500, plus a $6,000 catch-up contribution in 2018. But that’s just the employee salary deferral portion of the contribution.

You can also make an “employer” contribution of up to 20% of self-employment income or 25% of compensation. The total combined employee-employer contribution is limited to $55,000, plus the $6,000 catch-up contribution.

IRAs, Too

Catch-up contributions to non-Roth accounts not only can enlarge your retirement nest egg, but also can reduce your 2018 tax liability. And keep in mind that catch-up contributions are available for IRAs, too, but the deadline for 2018 contributions is April 15, 2019. If you have questions about catch-up contributions or other retirement saving strategies, please contact us.

Is Now the Time for Some Life Insurance?

Many people reach a point in life when buying some life insurance is highly advisable. Once you determine that you need it, the next step is calculating how much you should get and what kind.


Careful Calculations

If the coverage is to replace income and support your family, this starts with tallying the costs that would need to be covered, such as housing and transportation, child care, and education — and for how long. For many families, this will be only until the youngest children are on their own.

Next, identify income available to your family from Social Security, investments, retirement savings and any other sources. Insurance can help bridge any gaps between the expenses to be covered and the income available.

If you’re purchasing life insurance for another reason, the purpose will dictate how much you need:

Funeral costs. An average funeral bill can top $7,000. Gravesite costs typically add thousands more to this number.

Mortgage payoff. You may need coverage equal to the amount of your outstanding mortgage balance.

Estate planning. If the goal is to pay estate taxes, you’ll need to estimate your estate tax liability. If it’s to equalize inheritances, you’ll need to estimate the value of business interests going to each child active in your business and purchase enough coverage to provide equal inheritances to the inactive children.

Term vs. Permanent

The next question is what type of policy to purchase. Life insurance policies generally fall into two broad categories: term or permanent.

Term insurance is for a specific period. If you die during the policy’s term, it pays out to the beneficiaries you’ve named. If you don’t die during the term, it doesn’t pay out. It’s typically much less expensive than permanent life insurance, at least if purchased while you’re relatively young and healthy.

Permanent life insurance policies last until you die, so long as you’ve paid the premiums. Most permanent policies build up a cash value that you may be able to borrow against. Over time, the cash value also may reduce the premiums.

Because the premiums are typically higher for permanent insurance, you need to consider whether the extra cost is worth the benefits. It might not be if, for example, you may not require much life insurance after your children are grown.

But permanent life insurance may make sense if you’re concerned that you could become uninsurable, if you’re providing for special-needs children who will never be self-sufficient, or if the coverage is to pay estate taxes or equalize inheritances.

Some Comfort

No one likes to think about leaving loved ones behind. But you’ll no doubt find some comfort in having a life insurance policy that helps cover your family’s financial needs and plays an important role in your estate plan. Let us help you work out the details.