Are you a member of the Sandwich Generation?

If you’re currently taking care of your children and elderly parents, count yourself among those in the “Sandwich Generation.” Although it may be personally gratifying to help your parents, it can be a financial burden and affect your own estate plan. Here are some critical steps to take to better manage the situation.

Identify key contacts

Just like you’ve done for yourself, compile the names and addresses of professionals important to your parents’ finances and medical conditions. These may include stockbrokers, financial advisors, attorneys, CPAs, insurance agents and physicians.

List and value their assets

If you’re going to be able to manage the financial affairs of your parents, having knowledge of their assets is vital. Keep a list of their investment holdings, IRA and retirement plan accounts, and life insurance policies, including current balances and account numbers. Be sure to add in projections for Social Security benefits.

Open the lines of communication

Before going any further, have a frank and honest discussion with your elderly relatives, as well as other family members who may be involved, such as your siblings. Make sure you understand your parents’ wishes and explain the objectives you hope to accomplish. Understandably, they may be hesitant or too proud to accept your help initially.

Execute the proper documents

Assuming you can agree on how to move forward, develop a plan incorporating several legal documents. If your parents have already created one or more of these documents, they may need to be revised or coordinated with new ones. Some elements commonly included in an estate plan are:

Wills. Your parents’ wills control the disposition of their possessions, such as cars, and tie up other loose ends. (Of course, jointly owned property with rights of survivorship automatically pass to the survivor.) Notably, a will also establishes the executor of your parents’ estates. If you’re the one providing financial assistance, you may be the optimal choice.

Living trusts. A living trust can supplement a will by providing for the disposition of selected assets. Unlike a will, a living trust doesn’t have to go through probate, so this might save time and money, while avoiding public disclosure.

Powers of attorney for health and finances. These documents authorize someone to legally act on behalf of another person. With a durable power of attorney, the most common version, the authorization continues after the person is disabled. This enables you to better handle your parents’ affairs.

Living wills or advance medical directives. These documents provide guidance for end-of-life decisions. Make sure that your parents’ physicians have copies so they can act according to their wishes.

Beneficiary designations. Undoubtedly, your parents have completed beneficiary designations for retirement plans, IRAs and life insurance policies. These designations supersede references in a will, so it’s important to keep them up to date.

Spread the wealth

If you decide the best approach for helping your parents is to give them monetary gifts, it’s relatively easy to avoid gift tax liability. Under the annual gift tax exclusion, you can give each recipient up to $15,000 (for 2018) without paying any gift tax. Plus, payments to medical providers aren’t considered gifts, so you may make such payments on your parents’ behalf without using any of your annual exclusion or lifetime exemption amount.

Mind your needs

If you’re part of the Sandwich Generation, you already have a lot on your plate. But don’t overlook your own financial needs. Contact us to discuss the matter further.

© 2018

Avoid penalties by abiding by the NQDC tax rules

Nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC) plans pay executives at some time in the future for services to be currently performed. If you participate in such a plan, or your business offers one as an employee benefit, it’s critical for everyone involved to abide by the applicable tax rules. Of course, in the hectic course of the average exec’s schedule, keeping up with the details isn’t always easy.

How they differ

NQDC plans differ from qualified plans, such as 401(k)s, in a variety of ways. First, these plans can favor certain highly compensated employees. And though the executive’s tax liability on the deferred income also may be deferred, the employer can’t deduct the NQDC until the executive recognizes it as income. What’s more, any NQDC plan funding isn’t protected from the employer’s creditors.

What you need to know

NQDC plans also differ in terms of some of the rules that apply to them. Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 409A and related IRS guidance have tightened and clarified some of these rules. Specifics to study up on include:

Timing of initial deferral elections. Executives must make the initial deferral election before the year they perform the services for which the compensation is earned. So, for instance, if you wish to defer part of your 2019 compensation to 2020 or beyond, you generally must make the election by the end of 2018.

Timing of distributions. Benefits must be paid on a specified date, according to a fixed payment schedule or after the occurrence of a specified event — such as death, disability, separation from service, change in ownership or control of the employer, or an unforeseeable emergency.

Elections to change timing or form. The timing of benefits can be delayed but not accelerated. Elections to change the timing or form of a payment must be made at least 12 months in advance. Also, new payment dates must be at least five years after the date the payment would otherwise have been made.

Employment tax issues

Another important NQDC tax issue is that FICA taxes are generally due when services are performed or when there’s no longer a substantial risk of forfeiture, whichever is later. This is true even if the compensation isn’t paid or recognized for income tax purposes until later years.

So, if you’re the plan participant, your employer may withhold your portion of the tax from your salary, or ask you to write a check for the liability. An employer may also pay your portion, in which case you’ll have additional taxable income.

Consequences of noncompliance

The penalties for noncompliance with NQDC plan rules can be severe. Plan participants may be taxed on plan benefits at the time of vesting, and a 20% penalty and potential interest charges also will apply. So, if you’re receiving NQDC, check with your employer to make sure it’s addressing any compliance issues.

Putting it all together

Whether you’re a busy exec who participates in an NQDC plan or an employer offering one, please contact our firm. We can help incorporate your plan or other executive compensation into your year-end tax planning.

© 2018

DOL has increased scrutiny of defined benefit plans

Sponsors of defined benefit plans — commonly known as pensions — might be facing tighter scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Labor. Just last year, at an ERISA Advisory Council meeting, the agency’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) announced that it had ramped up pension audit operations in its Philadelphia office and later decided to do so elsewhere. If your organization offers its employees a defined benefit plan, here’s what you should know.

Required statement

The focus of the audits is on pension plan sponsors’ efforts to deliver benefits to terminated vested participants. According to EBSA’s Reporting and Disclosure Guide for Employee Benefit Plans, plan administrators must provide a “Statement of Accrued and Nonforfeitable Benefits” to participants on request, on termination of service with the employer or after the participant has a one-year break in service. However, only one statement is required in any 12-month period for statements provided on request.

Best practices

Timothy Hauser, EBSA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Program Operations, offered some best practices for satisfying the agency’s notification requirements. He advised, first and foremost, that plan sponsors keep good records on how to reach plan participants and relay those records to other corporate entities in a merger or acquisition.

A good starting point, according to Hauser, is for plan sponsors to send participants a certified letter using the participant’s last known address. If mail is returned from the former employee’s last known address, he suggested trying to contact the participant by phone. It’s possible the phone number on record is a mobile phone that wouldn’t be pinned to a previous mailing address.

When other methods fail, Hauser recommended reaching out to former co-workers of the separated participant who might have remained in contact. With so much information available through social media, employers should also consider using the Internet to help find terminated missing participants.

Up to speed

Pension plans may not be as widely used as they used to be, but the compliance rules related to them remain strict. Make sure you stay up to speed on everything that’s required.

© 2018

Catching up with the home mortgage interest deduction

A home is the most valuable asset many people own. So, it’s important to remain aware of the tax impact of homeownership and to carefully track the debt you incur to buy, build or improve your home — known as “acquisition indebtedness.”

Among the biggest tax perks of buying a home is the ability to deduct your mortgage interest payments. But this deduction has undergone some changes recently, so you may need to do some catching up.

Before the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) late last year, a taxpayer could deduct the interest on up to $1 million in acquisition indebtedness on a principal residence and a second home. And this still holds true for mortgage debt incurred before December 15, 2017. But the TCJA tightens limits on the itemized deduction otherwise.

Specifically, for 2018 to 2025, it generally allows a taxpayer to deduct interest only on mortgage debt of up to $750,000. The new law also generally suspends the deduction for interest on home equity debt: For 2018 to 2025, taxpayers can’t claim deductions for such interest, unless the proceeds are used to buy, build or substantially improve the taxpayer’s principal or second home.

Step carefully if you own a second residence and use it as a rental. For a home to qualify as a second home for tax purposes, its owner(s) must use it for more than 14 days or greater than 10% of the number of days it’s rented out at fair market value (whichever is more). Failure to meet these qualifications means the home is subject to different tax rules.

Please contact our firm for assistance in properly deducting mortgage interest, as well as fully understanding how the TCJA has impacted other aspects of personal tax planning.

© 2018

Tax calendar

October 15 — Personal federal income tax returns 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 17.)
    • If a six-month extension was obtained, calendar-year C corporations should file their 2017 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 13 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 17 — Calendar-year corporations must deposit the fourth installment of estimated income tax for 2018.

  • 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.

© 2018

TCJA draws a silver lining around the individual AMT

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) didn’t eliminate the individual alternative minimum tax (AMT). But the law did draw a silver lining around it. Revised rules now lessen the likelihood that many taxpayers will owe substantial taxes under the AMT for 2018 through 2025.

Parallel universe

Think of the AMT as a parallel universe to the regular federal income tax system. The difference: The AMT system taxes certain types of income that are tax-free under the regular tax system and disallows some regular tax deductions and credits.

The maximum AMT rate is 28%. By comparison, the maximum regular tax rate for individuals has been reduced to 37% for 2018 through 2025 thanks to the TCJA. For 2018, that 28% AMT rate starts when AMT income exceeds $191,100 for married joint-filing couples and $95,550 for others (as adjusted by Revenue Procedure 2018-18).

Exemption available

Under the AMT rules, you’re allowed a relatively large inflation-adjusted AMT exemption. This amount is deducted when calculating your AMT income. The TCJA significantly increases the exemption for 2018 through 2025. The exemption is phased out when your AMT income surpasses the applicable threshold, but the TCJA greatly increases those thresholds for 2018 through 2025.

If your AMT bill for the year exceeds your regular tax bill, you must pay the higher AMT amount. Originally, the AMT was enacted to ensure that very wealthy people didn’t avoid paying tax by taking advantage of “too many” tax breaks. Unfortunately, the AMT also hit some unintended targets. The new AMT rules are better aligned with Congress’s original intent.

Under both old and new law, the exemption is reduced by 25% of the excess of AMT income over the applicable exemption amount. But under the TCJA, only those with high incomes will see their exemptions phased out, while others — particularly middle-income taxpayers — will benefit from full exemptions.

Need to plan

For many taxpayers, the AMT rules are less worrisome than they used to be. Let our firm assess your liability and help you plan accordingly.

Sidebar: High-income earners back in the AMT spotlight

Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), many high-income taxpayers weren’t affected by the alternative minimum tax (AMT). That’s because, after multiple legislative changes, many of their tax breaks were already cut back or eliminated under the regular income tax rules. So, there was no need to address the AMT.

If one’s income exceeds certain levels, phaseout rules chip away or eliminate other tax breaks. As a result, higher-income taxpayers had little or nothing left to lose by the time they got to the AMT calculation, while many upper-middle-income folks still had plenty left to lose. Also, the highest earners were in the 39.6% regular federal income tax bracket under prior law, which made it less likely that the AMT — with its maximum 28% rate — would hit them.

In addition, the AMT exemption is phased out as income goes up. This amount is deducted in calculating AMT income. Under previous law, this exemption had little or no impact on individuals in the top bracket, because the exemption was completely phased out. But the exemption phaseout rule made upper-middle-income taxpayers more likely to owe AMT under previous law. Suffice it to say that, under the TCJA, high-income earners are back in the AMT spotlight. So, proper planning is essential.

© 2018

How spouse-owned businesses can reduce self-employment taxes

If you own a profitable, unincorporated business with your spouse, you probably find the high self-employment (SE) tax bills burdensome. An unincorporated business in which both spouses are active is typically treated by the IRS as a partnership owned 50/50 by the spouses. (For simplicity, when we refer to “partnerships,” we’ll include in our definition limited liability companies that are treated as partnerships for federal tax purposes.)

For 2018, that means you’ll each pay the maximum 15.3% SE tax rate on the first $128,400 of your respective shares of net SE income from the business. Those bills can mount up if your business is profitable. To illustrate: Suppose your business generates $250,000 of net SE income in 2018. Each of you will owe $19,125 ($125,000 × 15.3%), for a combined total of $38,250. Fortunately, there may be ways your spouse-owned business can lower your combined SE tax hit.

Divorce yourself from the concept

While the IRS creates the impression that involvement by both spouses in an unincorporated business automatically creates a partnership for federal tax purposes, in many cases it will have a tough time making the argument — especially when the spouses have no discernible partnership agreement and the business hasn’t been represented as a partnership to third parties (such as banks and customers).

If you can establish that your business is a sole proprietorship (or a single-member LLC treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes), only the spouse who is considered the proprietor owes SE tax. So, let’s assume the same facts as in the previous example, except that your business is a sole proprietorship operated by one spouse. Now you have to calculate SE tax for only that spouse. For 2018, the SE tax bill is $23,172 [($128,400 × 15.3%) + ($121,600 × 2.9% Medicare tax)]. That’s much less than the combined SE tax bill from the first example ($38,250).

Show a lopsided ownership percentage

Even if you do have a spouse-owned partnership, it’s not a given that it’s a 50/50 one. Your business might more properly be characterized as owned, say, 80% by one spouse and 20% by the other spouse, because one spouse does much more work than the other.

Let’s assume the same facts as in the first example, except that your business is an 80/20 spouse-owned partnership. In this scenario, the 80% spouse has net SE income of $200,000, and the 20% spouse has net SE income of $50,000. For 2018, the SE tax bill for the 80% spouse is $21,722 [($128,400 × 15.3%) + ($71,600 × 2.9%)], and the SE tax bill for the 20% spouse is $7,650 ($50,000 × 15.3%). The combined total SE tax bill is only $29,372 ($21,722 + $7,650).

Explore all strategies

More-complicated strategies are also available. Contact us to learn more about how you can reduce your spouse-owned business’s SE taxes.

© 2018

Study up on the tax advantages of a 529 savings plan

With kids back in school, it’s a good time for parents (and grandparents) to think about college funding. One option, which can be especially beneficial if the children in question still have many years until heading off to college, is a Section 529 plan.

Tax-deferred compounding

529 plans are generally state-sponsored, and the savings-plan option offers the opportunity to potentially build up a significant college nest egg because of tax-deferred compounding. So, these plans can be particularly powerful if contributions begin when the child is young. Although contributions aren’t deductible for federal purposes, plan assets can grow tax-deferred. In addition, some states offer applicable state tax incentives.

Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, supplies, computer-related items and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and, in many cases, for state purposes as well. (The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changes the definition of “qualifying expenses” to include not just postsecondary school costs, but also primary and secondary school expenses.)

Additional benefits

529 plans offer other benefits, too. They usually have high contribution limits and no income-based phaseouts to limit contributions. There’s generally no beneficiary age limit for contributions or distributions. And the owner can control the account — even after the child is a legal adult — as well as make tax-free rollovers to another qualifying family member.

Finally, 529 plans provide estate planning benefits: A special break for 529 plans allows you to front-load five years’ worth of annual gift tax exclusions, which means you can make up to a $75,000 contribution (or $150,000 if you split the gift with your spouse) in 2018. In the case of grandparents, this also can avoid generation-skipping transfer taxes.

Minimal minuses

One negative of a 529 plan is that your investment options are limited. Another is that you can make changes to your options only twice a year or if you change the beneficiary.

But whenever you make a new contribution, you can choose a different option for that contribution, no matter how many times you contribute during the year. Also, you can make a tax-free rollover to another 529 plan for the same child every 12 months.

More to learn

We’ve focused on 529 savings plans here; a prepaid tuition version of 529 plans is also available. If you’d like to learn more about either type of 529 plan, please contact us.

© 2018

When is bartering taxable?

The notion of bartering may conjure an image of a crowded, bustling medieval bazaar. Dusty travelers, farmers perchance, haggle with merchants over textiles or metal tools. Live chickens are exchanged for handspun cloth and, eventually, everyone goes home happy.

Although usually less dusty, these types of transactions continue to occur in today’s high-tech modern world. In fact, it’s not unusual for small businesses — especially start-ups that are short on capital — to exchange goods or services instead of cash.

For example, a microbrewery might ask the graphic designer across the street to design its logo in exchange for several cases of beer. Contrary to popular belief, these bartering transactions are taxable. In this case, the graphic design company would be required to include the fair market value of the beer in its gross income.

Granted, an informal transaction like this may fly under the IRS’s radar. But business owners who engage in bartering should know that the value of products or services involved in these kinds of deals is generally considered taxable income. (And this is true even if you’re not a business.)

Companies involved in bartering may be required to file Form 1099-MISC. The penalties for failure to file can be harsh. Also, if you use a barter exchange to broker trades with other businesses, the exchange is required to report the proceeds on Form 1099-B. Contact our firm for further details.

© 2018

Take note of the distinctive features of Roth IRAs

For some people, Roth IRAs can offer income and estate tax benefits that are preferable to those offered by traditional IRAs. However, it’s important to take note of just what the distinctive features of a Roth IRA are before making the choice.

Traditional vs. Roth

The biggest difference between traditional and Roth IRAs is how taxes affect contributions and distributions. Contributions to traditional IRAs generally are made with pretax dollars, reducing your current taxable income and lowering your current tax bill. You pay taxes on the funds when you make withdrawals. As a result, if your current tax bracket is higher than what you expect it will be after you retire, a traditional IRA can be advantageous.

In contrast, contributions to Roth IRAs are made with after-tax funds. You pay taxes on the funds now, and your withdrawals won’t be taxed (provided you meet certain requirements). This can be advantageous if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in retirement or if tax rates increase.

Roth distributions differ from traditional IRA distributions in yet another way. Withdrawals aren’t counted when calculating the taxable portion of your Social Security benefits.

Additional advantages

A Roth IRA may offer a greater opportunity to build up tax-advantaged funds. Your contributions can continue after you reach age 70½ as long as you’re earning income, and the entire balance can remain in the account until your death. In contrast, beginning with the year you reach age 70½, you can’t contribute to a traditional IRA — even if you do have earned income. Further, you must start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from a traditional IRA no later than April 1 of the year following the year you reach age 70½.

Avoiding RMDs can be a valuable benefit if you don’t need your IRA funds to live on during retirement. Your Roth IRA can continue to grow tax-free over your lifetime. When your heirs inherit the account, they’ll be required to take distributions — but spread out over their own lifetimes, allowing a continued opportunity for tax-free growth on assets remaining in the account. Further, the distributions they receive from the Roth IRA won’t be subject to income tax.

Many vehicles

As you begin planning for retirement (or reviewing your current plans), it’s important to consider all retirement planning vehicles. A Roth IRA may or may not be one of them. Please contact our firm for individualized help in determining whether it’s a beneficial choice.

Sidebar: TCJA eliminated option to recharacterize Roths

The passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act late last year had a marked impact on Roth IRAs: to wit, taxpayers who wish to convert a pretax traditional IRA into a posttax Roth IRA can no longer “recharacterize” (that is, reverse) the conversion for 2018 and later years.

The IRS recently clarified in FAQs on its website that, if you converted a traditional IRA into a Roth account in 2017, you can still reverse the conversion as long as it’s done by October 15, 2018. (This deadline applies regardless of whether you extend the deadline for filing your 2017 federal income tax return to October 15.)

Also, recharacterization is still an option for other types of contributions. For example, you can still make a contribution to a Roth IRA and subsequently recharacterize it as a contribution to a traditional IRA (before the applicable deadline).

© 2018