Refinanced Mortgage Interest May Not All Be Deductible

Mortgage interest rates continue to be low, and home values are on the uptick. If you are considering a refinance, there are some important home mortgage interest rules you should be aware of.

Generally, the mortgage interest that you may deduct on your home includes the interest paid on the acquisition debt and on up to $100,000 of equity debt, provided the combined debt does not exceed the lesser of the value of the home or $1,100,000. Acquisition debt is the debt incurred to buy the home or substantially improve it, while equity debt is funds borrowed against the home for other uses.

A big problem arises when taxpayers fail to consider that acquisition debt steadily declines over the life of the loan. So, for example, if the original acquisition debt was $400,000 and you refinance 15 years later, the acquisition debt has probably been paid down to somewhere around $300,000. In this case, if the loan was refinanced for $475,000, the refinanced debt would be allocated $300,000 to acquisition debt, $100,000 to equity debt and $75,000 to debt for which the interest would not be deductible as home mortgage interest. In this case, the interest paid on the $300,000 acquisition debt and the $100,000 equity debt would be deductible as home mortgage interest. If the use of the $75,000 can be traced to another deductible use (e.g., purchase of taxable investments or expenses related to operating a business), then the interest on the $75,000 loan would be deductible per the limitations of the other deductible use. If the use of the $75,000 cannot be traced to an interest-deductible use, then the interest would not be deductible.

In the example above, the interest would be allocated as follows: 63.15% as acquisition debt interest, 21.05% as equity debt interest and 15.79% as interest not deductible as home mortgage interest. The result would be different if some or all of the new loan in excess of the $300,000 acquisition debt was used to make improvements to the home. For example, say that $125,000 of the new loan was used to add a bedroom and bathroom to the home. This increases the home acquisition debt to $425,000, leaving $50,000 as equity debt, and the interest would all be deductible because the equity debt amount would then be under $100,000.

If you have already refinanced or are thinking of doing so, it is imperative that you retain a record of the terms of the original acquisition debt in case you exceed the debt limitation and need to prorate your interest deduction.

When refinancing, you also need to watch out for the alternative minimum tax (AMT). The AMT is another way of computing tax liability that is used if it is greater than the regular method. Congress originally conceived the AMT as a means of extracting a minimum tax from high-income taxpayers who have significant items of tax shelter and/or tax-favored deductions. Since the AMT was created, inflation has driven up income and deductions so that more individuals are becoming subject to the AMT.

When computing the AMT, only the acquisition debt interest is allowed as a deduction; home equity debt interest is not. Neither is the interest on debt for unconventional homes such as boats and motor homes, even if they are the primary residence of the taxpayer.

Before you refinance a home mortgage, it may be appropriate to contact this office to determine the tax implication of your planned refinance and see if there are any other suitable alternatives.

Large Employers Must Offer Affordable Health Coverage Beginning In 2015

In general, beginning January 1, 2015, employers with at least 100 full-time and full-time-equivalent employees must offer affordable health coverage that provides minimum value to at least 95% of their full-time employees and their dependents or they may be subject to an employer shared responsibility payment. This payment applies only if at least one of the employer’s full-time employees qualifies for a premium tax credit through enrollment in a government Health Insurance Marketplace.

Generally, an employer is subject to the requirement to provide affordable health coverage in 2015 if the employer has 100 or more full-time employees. When determining the number of full-time employees, there are certain classes of employees that are excluded from the count—the most notable being certain seasonal employees. Although an employee is considered full-time if he or she works 30 or more hours per week, to determine if the employer has reached the 100 full-time employee threshold, part-time employee hours for a month are totaled and divided by 120, and the result is added to the full-time count. Thus, an employer with fewer than 100 full-time employees may be required to provide an insurance plan to the employer’s full-time employees if the combination of full-time employees and the hours of part-time employees equal the equivalent of 100 full-time employees.

Each year, employers will determine, based on their current number of employees, whether they will be considered an applicable large employer for the next year. For example, if an employer has at least 100 full-time employees (including full-time equivalents) for 2014, it will be considered an applicable large employer for 2015. Employers average their number of employees across the months of the year to see whether they will be an applicable large employer for the next year. This averaging can take into account fluctuations that many employers may experience in their work force across the year.

Even though an employer determines whether it is subject to the mandate based upon the number of employees during the prior year, the penalty is based upon the current year’s employees and is determined on a monthly basis.

Example: John has 90 full-time employees, plus he has 40 part-time employees. His part-time employees for the month of January worked 1,920 hours. That is the equivalent of 16 (1,920 / 120) full-time employees. Thus, the number of John’s full-time employees for the month of January is 106 (90 + 16). As a result, John will have to provide his 90 full-time employees and their dependents with affordable health coverage for January or be subject to the shared responsibility payment (penalty) for that month, but only if at least one full-time employee receives a premium tax credit. The penalty is determined on a monthly basis.

Affordable health care coverage is minimum essential coverage where the employee’s share of the cost is no more than 9.5% of the employee’s household income.

Employers with 50 or more full-time employees are also subject to the shared responsibility payment (penalty), but not until 2016, and again only if one or more full-time employees claim a premium tax credit.

The foregoing is an abbreviated overview of the employer insurance mandate. The rules are complex. If you are unsure whether or not your business is subject to the penalty for 2015, please give this office a call. Don’t delay: the penalties are substantial and in some cases may be higher than the cost of the insurance.

Tax Smart Gifting

Frequently, taxpayers think that gifts of cash, securities or other assets they give to other individuals are tax deductible and, in turn, the gift recipient sometimes thinks income tax must be paid on the gift received. Nothing is further from the truth. To fully understand the ramifications of gifting, one needs to realize that gift tax laws are interrelated with estate tax laws, and Uncle Sam does not want you giving away your wealth before you pass away to avoid inheritance taxes.

Tax Gifting

As a result, what you give away prior to death will reduce the amount that can pass to your beneficiaries free of inheritance taxes after your death. For 2015, the lifetime exemption from inheritance tax is $5.43 million. The following amounts do not reduce the lifetime exemption:

  • $14,000 each to any number of recipients during every tax year. The amount is periodically adjusted for inflation, but the amount for 2015 remains at $14,000.
  • Directly pay medical expenses. This applies to amounts paid by one individual on behalf of another individual directly to a provider of medical care as payment for that medical care. Payments for medical insurance qualify for this exclusion.
  • Directly pay education expenses. This applies to amounts paid by one individual on behalf of another individual directly to a qualifying educational organization as tuition for that other individual. Costs of room and board aren’t eligible as direct payments.

If the gift giver is married and both spouses are in agreement, gifts to recipients made during a year can be treated as split between the husband and wife, even if the cash or property gift was made by only one of them. Thus, by using this technique, a married couple can give $28,000 a year to each recipient under the annual limitation discussed previously.

Gifting Techniques:

High-Wealth Individuals – If you are a high-wealth individual who would like to pass as much on to your heirs as possible while living, without reducing the lifetime exemption, you could pay directly your heirs’ medical expenses and higher education expenses in addition to annual gifts of cash or property of $14,000. You may want to do this, even if you are not a high-worth individual, to avoid having to file a gift tax return.

Medical Expenses – Except in rare circumstances, you cannot deduct the medical expenses you pay for another person, and they cannot deduct the expenses either since they did not pay them. Thus careful consideration should be given regarding whether you make the gift directly to the individual subject to the $14,000 annual limit, which would allow him or her to pay the medical expenses and claim the medical deduction on his or her tax return, or you pay the medical expenses directly. If the medical expenses you want to pay are greater than $14,000, then you could always gift $14,000 to the individual and pay the balance directly to the care provider(s), and thereby avoid reducing the lifetime exemption. Under rare circumstances, the recipient who will benefit from your gifts may qualify as your medical dependent, under which circumstance you would be able to deduct the medical expenses if they had been paid directly to the doctor, hospital or other provider.

Education Expenses – When you pay the qualified post-secondary education tuition for another individual, it does not mean, as is the case for medical expenses, that someone cannot benefit taxwise. Tax law says that whoever claims the exemption for the student is entitled to the American opportunity credit or lifetime learning credit for higher education expenses if they otherwise qualify.

Gifts of Appreciated Property – Consider replacing your cash gifts with gifts of appreciated property, such as stock for which you have a “paper gain.” When you gift an appreciated asset, the potential gain on the asset transfers to the recipient. This works for individuals, except for children who are subject to the kiddie tax, which requires the child’s income to be taxed at the parent’s tax rate if it is higher than the child’s rate. It also works great for contributions to charitable organizations. Although not subject to the gift tax rules, an appreciated asset gifted to a charity not only gets you out of reporting any gain from the appreciation, but you also get a charitable tax deduction equal to the fair market value (FMV) of the asset. The deduction for these gifts is generally limited to 30% of your adjusted gross income (AGI), but the excess carries over for up to five years of future returns.

Please call this office if you need assistance with planning your gifting strategies.

Getting the Most Out of Employee Business Expense Deductions

Individuals can deduct as miscellaneous itemized deductions certain expenses that they incur in the course of their employment. Generally, qualified business expenses are un-reimbursed expenses that are both ordinary (common and accepted in your industry) and necessary and do not include personal expenses.

Employee Business Expenses

There are two major barriers to deducting employee business expenses. The most commonly encountered is the 2%-of-income (AGI) deduction floor that applies to most (Tier II) miscellaneous deductions, which besides employee business expenses also includes investment expenses, certain legal expenses, home office and other expenses. The amount deductible as miscellaneous expenses is the total of those expenses reduced by 2% of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income for the year. Depending upon the taxpayer’s income, this reduction can substantially lessen or eliminate the deductible amount. The second major barrier is the alternative minimum tax (AMT), in which the Tier II miscellaneous expenses are not deductible at all. Thus, to the extent that the taxpayer is affected by the AMT, there is no benefit derived from these deductions. There are, however, some planning strategies that can be applied to overcome these barriers, such as the following:

  • Employer Accountable Plan – This is a plan under which your employer reimburses you for your employment-related expenses, but requires you to “adequately account” for the expenses. Expenses reimbursed by the employer under an “accountable plan” are excluded from income, thus essentially allowing 100% of the expenses to be deducted, while avoiding the 2%-of-income and AMT limitations. If the employer does not wish to add a reimbursement plan on top of the employee’s existing income, a salary reduction replaced with an accountable plan might be negotiated.
  • Bunch Deductions – With proper planning, employee business expenses for more than one year can be deferred or accelerated into one year, thus producing a larger deduction in that one year to overcome the 2% floor for miscellaneous deductions.
  • Education Expenses – Although certain employment-related education expenses can be taken as an employee business expense, there are other ways to gain a tax benefit and avoid the 2%-of-AGI and AMT limitations. These include income-limited education tax credits, and if your employer has an educational assistance plan, your employer can reimburse you up to $5,250 for most education expenses other than those associated with education travel.
  • Utilize the Section 179 Deduction – Generally, business assets with a useful life of more than one year must be deducted (depreciated) over several years. However, most business assets, other than real estate, qualify for the Code Section 179 expense deduction that allows the entire cost (up to $25,000 for 2015) to be deducted in one year. While vehicles used for business are eligible for Section 179 expensing, other limitations cap the deduction at lower amounts. The depreciation or Section 179 deduction of an employee’s business assets is part of employee business expenses subject to the 2%-of-AGI floor. However, by claiming the Section 179 deduction in the year the asset is purchased rather than deducting a lower depreciation amount over several years, there is a greater chance that the total miscellaneous deductions will be more than the 2%-of-AGI floor, thus allowing part of the expense to be deducted.

 

If you would like to explore any of these techniques, please give this office a call.

Is a 1031 Exchange Right for You?

If you own real property that you could sell for a substantial profit, you may have wondered whether there’s a way to avoid or minimize the taxes that would result from such a sale. The answer is yes, if the property is business or investment related. Normally, the gain from a sale of a capital asset is taxable income, but Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code provides a way to postpone the tax on the gain if the property is exchanged for a like-kind property that is also used in business or held for investment. These transactions are often referred to as 1031 exchanges and may apply to other types of property besides real estate, but the information in this article is geared toward real property.

1031 Like Kind Exchanges

It is important to note that these exchanges are not “tax-free” but are “tax deferred.” The gain that would otherwise be currently taxable will eventually be paid when the replacement property is sold in the future in a regular sale. As with all things tax, there are rules and regulations to be followed to ensure that the transaction qualifies, such as:

  • The property must be given up and its replacement must be actively used in a trade or business or held for investment, so a personal residence or a vacation home won’t qualify. However, under some circumstances a vacation home that has been rented out may qualify.
  • The properties must be of like kind. For instance, this means you can’t exchange real estate for an airplane. But the definition is quite broad for real property – for example, it is OK to exchange raw land for an office building, a single-family residential rental for an apartment building, or land in the city for farmland. Typically, the owner of a residential rental who participates in an exchange will trade for another residential rental. Both real estate properties must be located in the United States. Caution: Stocks, bonds, inventory, partnership interests and business goodwill are excluded from Sec 1031 exchanges.
  • It is unusual for two taxpayers to each have a property that the other wants where they can enter into a simultaneous exchange. Most likely, if you wanted to exchange your property, you may need to do a “deferred exchange,” which means you effectively sell your property and then find a suitable replacement property. In this case, the law is very strict. You must identify, in writing, the replacement property within 45 days of the date your property was transferred and complete the acquisition of the replacement property within 180 days of the transfer or, if earlier, by the due date, including extensions, of your tax return for the tax year in which your property was transferred. During this period you aren’t allowed to receive the proceeds from the sale of your property.
  • The property acquired in an exchange must be of equal or greater value to the one you gave up, and all of the net proceeds from the disposition of the relinquished property must be used to acquire the replacement property. Otherwise, any unused proceeds are taxable.

 

With this basic information about 1031 exchanges, you may still be wondering whether an exchange is right in your situation. So let’s consider some of the advantages and disadvantages of exchanges.

ADVANTAGES:

Tax deferral – The main reason most people choose to do a 1031 exchange is so taxes don’t have to be paid currently on the gain that would result from selling the property. The maximum federal tax rate paid on capital gains for most taxpayers is 15% (20% if you would otherwise be in the highest tax bracket of 39.6%). However, the part of the gain that is equal to the depreciation deduction you’ve claimed while you’ve owned the property is taxable at a maximum of 25%.

Leveraging the tax savings – When an exchange is used, the money that doesn’t have to be spent to pay the taxes that would have been owed on the gain from a sale can be used to acquire other property or higher-value property.

Asset accumulation – The money saved from not paying tax on the sale gain can be retained as part of your estate to be passed to your heirs, who would also get a new basis on the replacement property that is equal to its fair market value at your date of death. In this case, none of the postponed gain from the original property is ever subject to income tax. However, depending on the overall size of your estate, there could be estate tax considerations.

Potential management relief – Taxpayers sometimes decide to sell their property to get out from under the burden of managing and maintaining the property. An exchange may still accomplish this without an outright sale by allowing the taxpayer to acquire replacement property that has fewer maintenance requirements and associated costs or has on-site management.

DISADVANTAGES: 

Added complexity and expense – An exchange transaction involves more complexity than a straight sale. The timing requirements noted above must be strictly met or the transaction will be taxable. To avoid tainting the transaction when there’s a deferred exchange, the proceeds from the original property must not be received by the seller, and a qualified intermediary, also called an accommodator, must be hired to handle the money and acquire the replacement property. The intermediary’s fees will be in addition to the usual selling and purchase expenses incurred.

Low tax basis – The tax basis on the property acquired reflects the deferred gain, so the basis for depreciation will be low. Thus, the annual depreciation deduction will often be much less than it would be if the property were purchased outright. Upon sale of the property, the accumulated tax deferrals will catch up, and the result will then be a large tax bill.

No property flipping – The intent of the law permitting exchanges is for the taxpayer to continue to use the replacement property in his trade or business or as an investment. An immediate sale of the replacement property would not satisfy that requirement. How long must the replacement property be held? In most situations there is no specific guideline, but generally 2 years would probably suffice. “Intent” at the time of the exchange plays a major role according to the IRS.

Unknown future law changes – When weighing whether to do a 1031 exchange, consider the known tax liability if you sold your property versus the unknown tax that will be owed on the deferred gain when you eventually sell the replacement property in the future. If you think tax rates may be higher in the future, you may decide to pay the tax when you sell your original property and be done with it. Recent proposals by various members of Congress and President Obama would severely curtail or even eliminate 1031 exchanges and increase the depreciation period of real property from 27.5 years for residential property and 39 years for commercial property to 43 years for both. These proposals may never pass, but they are an indicator of how 1031 exchanges are currently viewed in Washington, D.C.

1031 exchanges are very complex transactions, and the information provided is very basic. Before you commit to an exchange, please call this office so that we can review your particular situation with you.

Creating Item Records in QuickBooks

Whether you’re selling one-of-a-kind items or stocking dozens of the same kinds of products, you need to create records for each. When it comes time to create invoices or sales receipts, your careful work defining each type of item will:

  • Ensure that your customers receive correct descriptions and pricing,
  • Provide the information you must know about your inventory levels, and,
  • Help you make smart decisions about reordering.

You’ll start this process by making sure that your QuickBooks file is set up to track inventory. Open the Editmenu and select Preferences, then Items & Inventory. Click the Company Preferences tab and click in the box in front of Inventory and purchase orders are activated if there isn’t a check in the box already. Here, too, you can ask that QuickBooks warn you when there isn’t enough inventory to sell. Click OK when you’re finished.

Figure 1: You need to be sure that QuickBooks knows you’ll be tracking inventory before you start making sales.

To create your first item, open the Lists menu and select Item List. Click the down arrow next to Item in the lower left corner of the window that opens and select New. The New Item window opens.

Warning: You must be very precise when you’re creating item records in order to avoid confusing your customers and creating problems with your accounting down the road. Please call us if you want us to walk you through the first few items.

QuickBooks should display the list of options below TYPE. Since you’re going to be tracking inventory that you buy and sell, select Inventory Part. Enter a name and/or item number in the next field. This is not the text that will appear on transactions; it’s simply for you to be able to recognize each item in your own bookkeeping.

 

Figure 2: Let us work with you if you have any doubts about the data that needs to be entered in the New Item window. It must be 100 percent accurate.

In the example above, the box next to Subitem of has a check mark in it because “Light Pine” is only one of the cabinet types you sell (you can check this box and select <Add New> if you want to create a new “parent” item on the fly). Leave the next field blank if your item doesn’t have a Part Number, and disregardUNIT OF MEASURE unless you’re using QuickBooks Premier or above.

Fill in the PURCHASE INFORMATION and SALES INFORMATION fields (or select from the lists of options). Keep in mind that the descriptive text you enter here will appear on transaction forms, though customers will never see what you’ve actually paid for items, of course (your Cost, as opposed to the Sales Price).

QuickBooks should have automatically selected the COGS Account (Cost of Goods Sold), but you’ll need to specify an Income Account. Please ask us if you’re not sure, as this is a critical designation. The Preferred Vendor and Tax Code fields will display lists if you’ve already set these up.

QuickBooks should have pre-selected your Asset Account. If you want to be alerted when your inventory level for this item has fallen to a specific number (Min) so you can reorder up to the point you specify in theMax field, enter those numbers there (the Inventory to Reorder option must be turned on in Edit | Preferences | Reminders).

If you already have this item in stock, enter the number under On Hand. QuickBooks will automatically calculate Average Cost and On P.O. (Purchase Order).

Click OK when you’ve completed all of the fields. This item will now appear in your Item List, and will be available to use in transactions. When you want to create, edit, delete, etc. any of your items, simply open the same menu you opened in the first step here (Lists | Item List | Item).

 

Figure 3: The Item menu, found in the lower left corner of the Item List.

Precisely created Inventory Part records are critical to accurate sales and purchase transactions. So use exceptional care in building them.