All posts by Amanda Gabel

The TCJA effect: Qualified residence interest

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) made a significant impact — both directly and indirectly — on the deductibility of various types of interest expense for individuals. One area affected is qualified residence interest.

Two ways about it

The TCJA affects interest on residential loans in two ways. First, by nearly doubling the standard deduction and placing a $10,000 cap on deductions of state and local taxes, the act substantially reduces the number of taxpayers who itemize. This means that fewer taxpayers will benefit from mortgage and home equity interest deductions. Second, from 2018 through 2025, the act places new limits on the amount of qualified residence interest you can deduct.

Previously, taxpayers could deduct interest on up to $1 million in acquisition indebtedness ($500,000 for married taxpayers filing separately) and up to $100,000 in home equity indebtedness ($50,000 for married taxpayers filing separately).

Acquisition indebtedness is debt that’s incurred to acquire, build or substantially improve a qualified residence, and is secured by that residence. Home equity indebtedness is debt that’s incurred for any other purpose (such as buying a boat or paying off credit cards) and is secured by a qualified residence. A single mortgage could be treated as both acquisition and home equity indebtedness, allowing taxpayers to deduct interest on debt up to $1.1 million.

The TCJA reduced the deduction limit for acquisition indebtedness to interest on up to $750,000 in debt and eliminated the deduction for home equity indebtedness altogether, through 2025. The new limit on acquisition indebtedness doesn’t apply to debt incurred on or before December 15, 2017, subject to an exception for mortgages that were incurred on or before April 1, 2018, in certain circumstances. Specifically, it involves debt incurred pursuant to a written binding contract to purchase a qualified residence executed before December 15, 2017, and scheduled to close before January 1, 2018 (so long as the purchase, as it turned out, was completed before April 1, 2018). And it doesn’t apply to existing mortgages that are refinanced after December 15, 2017, provided the resulting debt doesn’t exceed the refinanced debt.

The elimination of interest deductions for home equity indebtedness, however, applies to existing debt. So, if you were previously deducting interest on up to $100,000 of home equity debt, that interest is no longer deductible. The same holds true for the $100,000 home equity portion of $1.1 million in mortgage debt. Note, however, that interest on a home equity loan used to substantially improve a qualified residence is deductible as acquisition indebtedness (subject to applicable limits).

Review your expenses

In light of the TCJA’s changes, you may want to make changes such as paying off home equity loans because interest is no longer deductible. Contact us for help.

Sidebar: Investment interest also affected

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) also affects investment interest. This is interest on debt borrowed to buy taxable investments (margin loans, for example). Like qualified residence interest, investment interest is an itemized deduction, which is lost if you no longer itemize.

Deductions of investment interest cannot exceed your net investment income, which generally includes interest income and ordinary dividend income, but not lower-taxed capital gains, qualified dividends or tax-free investment earnings. For many people, net investment income is now higher because the TCJA eliminated miscellaneous itemized deductions for such expenses.

© 2020

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Careful tax planning required for incentive stock options

Incentive stock options (ISOs) are a popular form of compensation for executives and other key employees. They allow you to buy company stock in the future at a fixed price equal to or greater than the stock’s fair market value on the ISO grant date. If the stock appreciates, you can buy shares at a price below what they’re then trading for. But careful tax planning is required because of the complex rules that apply.

Tax advantages abound

Although ISOs must comply with many rules, they receive tax-favored treatment. You owe no tax when ISOs are granted. You also owe no regular income tax when you exercise ISOs. There could be alternative minimum tax (AMT) consequences, but the AMT is less of a risk now because of the high AMT exemption under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

There are regular income tax consequences when you sell the stock. If you sell after holding it at least one year from the exercise date and two years from the grant date, you pay tax on the sale at your long-term capital gains rate. You also may owe the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT).

If you sell the stock before long-term capital gains treatment applies, a “disqualifying disposition” occurs and a portion of the gain is taxed as compensation at ordinary-income rates.

2019 impact

If you were granted ISOs in 2019, there likely isn’t any impact on your 2019 income tax return. But if in 2019 you exercised ISOs or you sold stock you’d acquired via exercising ISOs, then it could affect your 2019 tax liability. It’s important to properly report the exercise or sale on your 2019 return to avoid potential interest and penalties for underpayment of tax.

Planning ahead

If you receive ISOs in 2020 or already hold ISOs that you haven’t yet exercised, plan carefully when to exercise them. Waiting to exercise ISOs until just before the expiration date (when the stock value may be the highest, assuming the stock is appreciating) may make sense. But exercising ISOs earlier can be advantageous in some situations.

Once you’ve exercised ISOs, the question is whether to immediately sell the shares received or to hold on to them long enough to garner long-term capital gains treatment. The latter strategy often is beneficial from a tax perspective, but there’s also market risk to consider. For example, it may be better to sell the stock in a disqualifying disposition and pay the higher ordinary-income rate if it would avoid AMT on potentially disappearing appreciation.

The timing of the sale of stock acquired via an exercise could also positively or negatively affect your liability for higher ordinary-income tax rates, the top long-term capital gains rate and the NIIT.

Nice perk

ISOs are a nice perk to have, but they come with complex rules. For help with both tax planning and filing, please contact us.

© 2020

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Own a pass-through entity? Beware the Ides of March

“Beware the Ides of March.” Shakespeare’s words don’t apply just to Julius Caesar; they also apply to calendar-year partnerships, S corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs) treated as partnerships or S corporations for tax purposes. Why? The Ides of March — March 15 — is the federal income tax filing deadline for these “pass-through” entities.

Not-so-ancient history

Until the 2016 tax year, the filing deadline for partnerships was the same as that for individual taxpayers: April 15 (or shortly thereafter if April 15 fell on a weekend or holiday). But the due date was changed to allow business owners to use the information contained in the pass-through entity forms to file their personal returns. For partnerships with fiscal year ends, tax returns are now due the 15th day of the third month after the close of the tax year. The same deadline applies to fiscal-year S corporations.

Avoiding a tragedy

If you haven’t yet filed your calendar-year partnership or S corporation return, you can avoid the tragedy of a late return by filing for an extension. Under the current law, the maximum extension for calendar-year partnerships is six months (until September 15, 2020, for 2019 returns). This is up from five months under the old law. So, the extension deadline is the same — only the length of the extension has changed. The extension deadline for calendar-year S corporations also is September 15, 2020, for 2019 returns. Whether you’ll be filing a partnership or an S corporation return, you must file for the extension by March 15 if it’s a calendar-year entity.

Extending the drama

Filing for an extension can be tax-smart if you’re missing critical documents or you face unexpected life events that prevent you from devoting enough time to your return right now.

But to avoid potential interest and penalties, you still must (with a few exceptions) pay any tax due by the unextended deadline. There probably won’t be any tax liability from the partnership or S corporation return. But, if filing for an extension for the entity return causes you to also have to file an extension for your personal return, it could cause you to owe interest and penalties in relation to your personal return.

To file or to extend

We can help you file your tax returns on a timely basis or determine whether filing for an extension is appropriate. Contact us today.

© 2020

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Accounting for the near and the long term in a family budget

A wise person once said, “Simplicity is the key to a family budget.” (He or she may or may not have been an accountant.) However, it also needs to be comprehensive enough to cover all the necessary items. To find the right balance, a budget should cover two distinct facets of family members’ lives: the near term and the long term.

In the near term, the budget should encompass the day-to-day items that affect every family. First, the home: This is often the most valuable possession in a personal budget. And a budget shouldn’t include only mortgage payments, but also expenses such as utilities, maintenance, and supplies.

Naturally, there are other items related to daily life that need to be accounted for. These include groceries, fuel, clothing, child care, insurance, and out-of-pocket medical expenses. And families need to draw clear distinctions between fixed and discretionary spending.

Along with being a practical guide to near-term family spending, the budget needs to address long-term goals. Of course, some goals are further out than others. For example, virtually everyone’s longest-term objective should be to have a comfortable retirement. So, a budget needs to incorporate plan contributions and other ways to meet this goal.

A relatively less long-term goal might be funding one or more college educations. So, again, the budget should reflect efforts to this effect. And, as a long-term but “as soon as possible” objective, the budget needs to be structured to pay off debts and maintain a strong credit rating. Our firm can help you craft a sensible budget that addresses your family’s distinctive needs.

© 2020

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Determining an employee’s “home” for reimbursement purposes

Despite the prevalence of Web-based meetings, many of today’s businesses still have plenty of employees who travel. If you still have sales staff or other workers out on the road, and you’re reimbursing them on a tax-free basis for their travel expenses, it’s important for you as the employer to stay up to date on the rules that determine the location of a person’s tax home.

Principal workplace

Internal Revenue Code Section 162 imposes three requirements for travel expense deductions: 1) The expenses must be ordinary and necessary, 2) they must be incurred while traveling away from the individual’s tax home, and 3) they must be incurred in pursuit of business.

An employee’s “tax home” is generally determined by where he or she works, not by where the employee lives. A tax home isn’t limited to one building or property; it includes the entire city or area in which the tax home is located. For employees with one regular workplace, their tax home is that workplace. If an employee has more than one regular workplace, his or her tax home is the employee’s principal workplace.

If an employee has no principal workplace, his or her tax home is the employee’s “regular place of abode in a real and substantial sense.” Those who have no principal workplace and no regular abode are considered “itinerants,” and their tax home is wherever they work. Itinerants can never get a travel expense deduction or qualify for tax-free reimbursement of their travel expenses because they’ll never be “away from home.”

Three-factor test

The IRS uses a three-factor test to determine whether an employee with no principal workplace has a tax home or is itinerant. The three factors involve whether the employee:

  1. Performs a portion of his or her work near the claimed abode and uses that abode for lodging purposes when working there,
  2. Must leave the abode to perform his or her job, which duplicates the employee’s living expenses incurred at the abode, and
  3. Hasn’t abandoned the vicinity of his or her historical place of lodging and the abode; has marital or lineal family members currently residing at the abode; or uses the abode frequently for lodging.

If all three factors are satisfied, the individual’s abode is the tax home. If only two are satisfied, the answer will depend on the facts and circumstances, so you may need to consult with your tax advisors. If only one factor is satisfied, the employee is an itinerant.

The actual or expected length of an employee’s assignment to another location may affect whether the expenses are treated as incurred while “away from home.” Assignments of indefinite duration can change a taxpayer’s tax home, but temporary assignments won’t if the assignment is realistically expected to last, and in fact lasts, for one year or less.

Importance of substantiation

Finally, keep in mind that travel expenses generally must be substantiated with information about the amount, time, place and business purpose of each expense. Our firm can help you determine your employees’ respective tax homes and follow the rules.

© 2019

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What to do about fraudulent credit or debit card charges

It’s an awful feeling to learn that someone has used your credit or debit card to make fraudulent charges. Whether you’re liable typically depends on the type of card, whether you still possess the card and when you alert the issuer.

Credit cards

If your card is lost or stolen and you report it to the card provider before your card is used in a fraudulent transaction, you can’t be held responsible for any unauthorized charges. If you report it after unauthorized charges have been made, you may be responsible for a specified dollar amount in charges. Some card issuers have decided not to hold their customers liable for any fraudulent charges regardless of when they notify the card company. And if your account number is stolen but not the actual card, your liability is $0. But either you or the card issuer must identify the fraudulent transactions for them to be removed.

When reporting a card loss or fraudulent transaction, contact the issuer via phone. Then follow up with a letter or email. This should include your account number, the date you noticed the card was missing (if applicable), and the date you initially reported the card loss or fraudulent transaction.

Debit cards

If you report a missing debit card before any unauthorized transactions are made, you aren’t responsible for any unauthorized transactions. If you report a card loss within two business days after you learn of the loss, your maximum liability for unauthorized transactions is $50.

But if you report the card loss after two business days but within 60 calendar days of the date your statement showing an unauthorized transaction was mailed, liability can jump to $500. Finally, if you report the card loss more than 60 calendar days after your statement showing unauthorized transactions was mailed, you could be liable for all charges.

What if you notice an unauthorized debit card transaction on your statement, but your card is still in your possession? You have 60 calendar days after the statement showing the unauthorized transaction is mailed to report it and avoid liability.

Safest choice

If you’re unsure about the specific conditions that trigger liability for unauthorized charges, contact your card issuer.

© 2019

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Every business owner needs an exit strategy

As a business owner, you have to keep your eye on your company’s income and expenses and applicable tax breaks. But you also must look out for your own financial future. And that includes creating an exit strategy.

Buy-sell agreement

When a business has more than one owner, a buy-sell agreement can be a powerful tool. The agreement controls what happens to the business if a specified event occurs, such as an owner’s retirement, disability or death. A well-drafted agreement provides a ready market for the departing owner’s interest in the business and prescribes a method for setting a price for that interest. It also allows business continuity by preventing disagreements caused by new owners.

A key issue with any buy-sell agreement is providing the buyer(s) with a means of funding the purchase. Life or disability insurance often helps fulfill this need and can give rise to several tax issues and opportunities. One of the biggest advantages of life insurance as a funding method is that proceeds generally are excluded from the beneficiary’s taxable income, provided certain conditions are met.

Succession within the family

You can pass your business on to family members by giving them interests, selling them interests or doing some of each. Be sure to consider your income needs, the tax consequences, and how family members will feel about your choice.

Under the annual gift tax exclusion, you can currently gift up to $15,000 of ownership interests without using up any of your lifetime gift and estate tax exemption. Valuation discounts may further reduce the taxable value of the gift.

With the gift and estate tax exemption approximately doubled through 2025 ($11.4 million for 2019), gift and estate taxes may be less of a concern for some business owners. But others may want to make substantial transfers now to take maximum advantage of the high exemption. What’s right for you will depend on the value of your business and your timeline for transferring ownership.

Get started now

To be successful, your exit strategy will require planning well in advance of retirement or any other reason for ownership transition. Please contact us for help.

© 2019

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Tax calendar

January 15 — Individual taxpayers’ final 2019 estimated tax payment is due.

January 31 — File 2019 Forms W-2 (“Wage and Tax Statement”) with the Social Security Administration and provide copies to your employees.

  • File 2019 Forms 1099-MISC (“Miscellaneous Income”) reporting nonemployee compensation payments with the IRS and provide copies to recipients.
  • Most employers must file Form 941 (“Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return”) to report Medicare, Social Security and income taxes withheld in the fourth quarter of 2019. 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 February 11 to file the return. Employers who have an estimated annual employment tax liability of $1,000 or less may be eligible to file Form 944 (“Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return”).
  • File Form 940 (“Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment [FUTA] Tax Return”) for 2019. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it’s more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 11 to file the return.
  • File Form 943 (“Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return for Agricultural Employees”) to report Social Security, Medicare and withheld income taxes for 2019. 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 year in full and on time, you have until February 11 to file the return.
  • File Form 945 (“Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax”) for 2019 to report income tax withheld on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on pensions, annuities, IRAs, etc. 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 year in full and on time, you have until February 11 to file the return.

February 28 — File 2019 Form 1096, along with copies of information returns with the IRS.

March 16 — 2019 tax returns must be filed or extended for calendar-year partnerships and S corporations. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day for those types of entities to make 2019 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.

© 2019

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Do you know your tax bracket?

Although the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) generally reduced individual tax rates through 2025, there’s no guarantee you’ll receive a refund or lower tax bill. Some taxpayers have actually seen their taxes go up because of reductions or eliminations of certain tax breaks. For this reason, it’s important to know your bracket.

Some single and head of household filers could be pushed into higher tax brackets more quickly than was the case pre-TCJA. For example, the beginning of the 32% bracket for singles for 2019 is $160,725, whereas it was $191,651 for 2017 (though the rate was 33% then). For heads of households, the beginning of this bracket has decreased even more significantly, to $160,700 for 2019 from $212,501 for 2017.

Married taxpayers, on the other hand, won’t be pushed into some middle brackets until much higher income levels through 2025. For example, the beginning of the 32% bracket for joint filers for 2019 is $321,450, whereas it was $233,351 for 2017. (Again, the rate was 33% then.)

As before the TCJA, the tax brackets are adjusted annually for inflation. Because there are so many variables under the law, it’s hard to say exactly how a specific taxpayer’s bracket might change from year to year. Contact us for help assessing what your tax rate likely will be for 2020 — and for help filing your 2019 tax return.

© 2019

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Asset protection is just as important as tax planning

Like many financially savvy individuals, you’re probably already thinking about filing your tax return next year. But don’t overlook another critical and equally important aspect of financial planning: asset protection. Here are some fundamental strategies to consider.

Buy liability insurance

Liability insurance policies help protect your assets from the financial risks associated with personal liability that results from an adverse legal judgment. Auto and homeowner’s policies, for example, usually include some liability coverage. Increasing your liability coverage beyond the standard amounts will provide additional asset protection.

Personal liability umbrella insurance can give you even more liability coverage above the limits of your auto and homeowner’s policies. For instance, if you were sued for causing a car accident or found liable for injuries suffered by a visitor to your home, umbrella insurance could provide coverage up to the policy limits (such as $1 million).

Look to statutory protection

Federal or state law exempts certain kinds of property and assets from creditor liens. Thus, some assets you own may automatically be protected due to statutory guidelines. Qualified retirement plans are this type of asset, as are IRAs and 401(k) plans, life insurance proceeds and Section 529 college savings plans. But keep in mind that inherited assets may not have the same degree of protection.

The amount of home equity that’s protected (generally called the “homestead exemption”) depends on state law. In some states, it’s very generous, but in others it’s extremely limited, given the value of homes today. In a couple of states, there’s no protection. Consult with an attorney about your state’s laws.

Establish a trust

Assets placed in an irrevocable trust can’t be removed, nor can the trust terms be changed. Thus, you’ve effectively relinquished control over the assets and put them out of reach of your creditors. The asset transfer must be done in advance of the act that created the liability, or the transfer could be nullified. In other words, the time to think about setting up such a trust is before you need to take advantage of it.

An irrevocable trust also can help you protect assets for your children and grandchildren. Consider structuring the trust in a way that effectively gives future generations the benefit of the assets without transferring ownership of them to your heirs. This can shield those assets from your descendants’ future creditors.

If you decide to use trusts as part of your asset protection strategy, remember that they may be subject to higher income tax rates and additional tax filing requirements. Trusts also may be costly to set up and require expert legal counsel to administer and maintain.

Obtain expert assistance

The details involved in implementing asset protection strategies can be complex. We can offer you guidance in your case.

Sidebar: Asset ownership structure is key

Ownership of your assets plays an important role in whether they can be seized by creditors. Thus, it might be wise in some situations to transfer ownership of certain assets to your spouse. If you’re at a high risk of liability — for example, you’re a business owner — one strategy might be to retain ownership of assets with statutory protection, as mentioned in the main article, and transfer ownership of all other assets to your spouse.

© 2019

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