Ensuring Your Long-Term Care Policy is Tax-Qualified

A long-term care insurance policy supplements your traditional health insurance by covering services that assist you or a loved one with one or more activities of daily living. Such activities include eating, bathing, dressing, toileting and transferring (in and out of bed, for example).

Long-term care coverage is relatively expensive, but it may be possible to reduce the cost by purchasing a tax-qualified policy. Generally, benefits paid in accordance with a policy are tax-free. In addition, if a policy is tax-qualified, your premiums are deductible (as medical expenses) up to a specified limit if you qualify.

To qualify, a policy must:

  • Be guaranteed renewable and noncancelable regardless of health,
  • Not delay coverage of pre-existing conditions more than six months,
  • Not condition eligibility on prior hospitalization,
  • Not exclude coverage based on a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or similar conditions or illnesses, and
  • Require a physician’s certification that you’re either unable to perform at least two of six ADLs or you have a severe cognitive impairment and that this condition has lasted or is expected to last at least 90 days.

It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of tax-qualified policies. The primary advantage is the premium deduction. But keep in mind that medical expenses are deductible only if you itemize and only to the extent they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income for 2019, so some people don’t have enough medical expenses to benefit from this advantage. It’s also important to weigh any potential tax benefits against the advantages of nonqualified policies, which may have less stringent eligibility requirements.

Vacation Homes: Do You Understand the Tax Nuances?

Owning a vacation home can offer tax breaks, but they may differ from those associated with a primary residence. The key is whether a vacation home is used solely for personal enjoyment or is also rented out to tenants.


Sorting It Out

If your vacation home is not rented out, or if you rent it out for no more than 14 days a year, the tax benefits are essentially the same as those you’d receive if you own your primary residence. In this scenario, you’d generally be able to deduct your mortgage interest and real estate taxes on Schedule A of your federal income tax return, up to certain limits. Also, you may exclude all your rental income.

But the rules are different if you rent out your vacation home for 15 or more days annually. First, the rental income must be reported. Second, in this scenario, the IRS considers your vacation home to be an investment property and, thus, allows deductions related to the rental of the property, with certain limitations. In addition to mortgage interest and real estate taxes, these deductions generally include insurance, utilities, housekeeping, repairs and depreciation. Also, the deduction for certain categories of expenses cannot exceed the rental income.

If you exceed this number of days of rentals and use your vacation home for personal use, these deductions will be limited by the ratio of actual rental days to the total days of use of the home. Suppose, for example, that you personally use your vacation home for 25 days and rent it for 75 days in a year, so the home is used for 100 total days. Here, you would be allowed to deduct 75% of the expenses listed above as rental expenses. Be aware that a portion of the mortgage interest and real estate taxes may be deductible on Schedule A. In certain circumstances, however, the personal portion of your mortgage interest may not be deductible.

Bottom Line

If you want to maximize the tax benefits of your vacation home, limit your personal use of the home to no more than 14 days or 10% of the total rental days. If you want to personally use the home more than this, you can still realize some limited tax benefits. Contact us for details about your specific situation.

Consider the Tax Advantages of Qualified Small Business Stock

While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduced most ordinary-income tax rates for individuals, it didn’t change long-term capital gains rates. They remain at 0%, 15% and 20%.

The capital gains rates now have their own statutory bracket amounts, but the 0% rate generally applies to taxpayers in the bottom two ordinary-income tax brackets (now 10% and 12%). And, you no longer must be in the top ordinary-income tax bracket (now 37%) to be subject to the top long-term capital gains rate of 20%. Many taxpayers in the 35% tax bracket also will be subject to the 20% rate.

So, finding ways to defer or minimize taxes on investments is still important. One way to do that — and diversify your portfolio, too — is to invest in qualified small business (QSB) stock.

QSB Defined

To be a QSB, a business must be a C corporation engaged in an active trade or business and must not have assets that exceed $50 million when you purchase the shares.

The corporation must be a QSB on the date the stock is issued and during substantially all the time you own the shares. If, however, the corporation’s assets exceed the $50 million threshold while you’re holding the shares, it won’t cause QSB status to be lost in relation to your shares.

Two Tax Advantages

QSBs offer investors two valuable tax advantages:

1.      Up to a 100% exclusion of gain. Generally, taxpayers selling QSB stock are allowed to exclude a portion of their gain if they’ve held the stock for more than five years. The amount of the exclusion depends on the acquisition date. The exclusion is 100% for stock acquired on or after Sept. 28, 2010. So, if you purchase QSB stock in 2019, you can enjoy a 100% exclusion if you hold it until sometime in 2024. (The specific date, of course, depends on the date you purchase the stock.)

2.      Tax-free gain rollovers. If you don’t want to hold the QSB stock for five years, you still have the opportunity to enjoy a tax benefit: Within 60 days of selling the stock, you can buy other QSB stock with the proceeds and defer the tax on your gain until you dispose of the new stock. The rolled-over gain reduces your basis in the new stock. For determining long-term capital gains treatment, the new stock’s holding period includes the holding period of the stock you sold.

More to Think About

Additional requirements and limits apply to these breaks. For example, there are many types of businesses that don’t qualify as QSBs, ranging from various professional fields to financial services to hospitality and more. Before investing, it’s important to also consider nontax factors, such as your risk tolerance, time horizon and overall investment goals. Contact us to learn more.

TCJA Inspires Many Business Owners to Reconsider Entity Choice

For tax years beginning in 2018 and beyond, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) created a flat 21% federal income tax rate for C corporations. Under prior law, C corporations were taxed at rates as high as 35%.

Meanwhile, the TCJA also reduced individual income tax rates, which apply to sole proprietorships and owners of pass-through entities, including partnerships, S corporations, and, typically, limited liability companies (LLCs). The top rate, however, dropped only slightly, from 39.6% to 37%.

What does all of this mean for business owners? Among other things, it means now might be a good time to reconsider your company’s entity choice — if not this year, then perhaps for the 2020 tax year. On the surface, switching to (or staying) a C corporation may seem like a no-brainer. But there are many other considerations involved.

Conventional Wisdom

Under prior tax law, conventional wisdom was that most small businesses should be set up as sole proprietorships or pass-through entities to avoid the double taxation of C corporations. A C corporation pays entity-level income tax and then shareholders pay tax on dividends — and on capital gains when they sell the stock. For pass-through entities, there’s no federal income tax at the entity level.

Although C corporations are still potentially subject to double taxation under the TCJA, their new 21% tax rate helps make up for it. This issue is further complicated, however, by another provision of the TCJA that allows noncorporate owners of pass-through entities to take a deduction equal to as much as 20% of qualified business income (QBI), subject to various limits. But, unless Congress extends it, the break is available only for tax years beginning in 2018 through 2025.

Scenarios to Ponder

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer when deciding how to structure a business. The best choice depends on your company’s distinctive circumstances, as well as your financial situation and objectives as owner.

For instance, if your business consistently generates tax losses, there’s no advantage to operating as a C corporation. Losses from C corporations can’t be deducted by their owners. So, converting to a pass-through entity may make sense because, as their name indicates, these business structures allow losses to pass through to the owners’ personal tax returns.

Another example involves companies that distribute profits to owners. For a profitable business that does so, operating as a pass-through entity generally will be better if significant QBI deductions are available. If not, the pass through entity benefit is diminished, but there is still a slight tax advantage to continuing to be a pass through entity.

Many Considerations

These are only a few of the issues to consider when rethinking your company’s business structure. We can help you evaluate your options.

 

Sidebar: Is your company focused on growth?

Some companies — particularly start-ups and those in “hot” industries — may turn a profit but hold on to those bottom-line dollars to fund future growth. For these businesses, operating as a C corporation generally is advantageous if the corporation is a qualified small business (QSB).

Why? A 100% gain exclusion may be available for QSB stock sale gains. If QSB status is unavailable, operating as a C corporation could still be preferred — unless significant qualified business income deductions would be available at the owner level. (For more on this exclusion, contact us.)

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.