Want to Reduce Required Minimum Distributions and Extend Your Retirement Benefits?

If you are one of the boomer generation, and if you find that your required minimum distributions (RMDs) from qualified plans and IRAs are providing unneeded income (along with a high tax bill), or if you are afraid that the government’s RMD requirements will leave too little in your retirement plan for your later years, you can use a qualified longevity annuity contract (QLAC) to reduce your RMDs and extend the life of your retirement distributions.

The government allows individuals to purchase QLACs with their retirement funds, thus reducing the value of those funds (subject to the RMD rules) and in turn reducing the funds’ annual RMDs.

A QLAC is a deferred-income annuity that begins at an advanced age and that meets the stringent limitations included in the tax regulations. One benefit of a retirement-planning strategy involving QLACs is that they provide a form of longevity insurance, allowing taxpayers to use part of their retirement savings to buy an annuity that helps protect them from outliving their assets.

The tax-planning benefits of QLACs are twofold:

(1) Because the QLAC is purchased using funds from a qualified retirement plan or IRA, that plan’s year-end balance (value) is lowered. This causes the RMDs for future years to be less than they otherwise would be, as the RMD is determined by dividing the account balance (from 12/31 of the prior year) by an annuity factor that is based on the retiree’s age.

Example: Jack is age 74, and the annuity table lists his remaining distribution period as 23.8 years. The balance of his IRA account on 12/31/2016 is $400,000. Thus, his RMD for 2017 would be $16,807 ($400,000 / 23.8). However, if Jack had purchased a $100,000 QLAC with his IRA funds during 2016, his balance would have been $300,000, and his 2017 RMD would be $12,605 ($300,000 / 23.8). By purchasing the $100,000 QLAC, Jack would have reduced his RMD for 2016 by $4,202 ($16,807 – $12,605). This reduction would continue for all future years. Later, the $100,000 QLAC would provide retirement benefits, likely beginning when Jack reaches age 85.

(2) Tax on the annuity will be deferred until payments commence under the annuity contract.

A deferred-income annuity must meet a number of requirements to be treated as a QLAC, including the following:

Limitation on premiums – When buying a QLAC, a taxpayer can use up to the lesser of $125,000 or 25% of his or her total non-Roth IRA balances. The dollar limitation applies to the sum of the premiums paid on all QLAC contracts.

When distributions must commence – Distributions under a QLAC must commence by a specified annuity starting date, which is no later than the first day of the month after the taxpayer’s 85th birthday.

For additional details about how QLACs might fit into your retirement strategy, please give this office a call.

Thinking of Tapping Your Retirement Savings? Read This First

If you are looking for cash for a specific purpose, your retirement savings may be a tempting source. However, if you are under age 59½ and plan to withdraw money from a traditional IRA or qualified retirement account, you will likely pay both income tax and a 10% early-distribution tax (also referred to as a penalty) on any previously untaxed money that you take out. Withdrawals you make from a SIMPLE IRA before age 59½ and those you make during the 2-year rollover restriction period after establishing the SIMPLE IRA may be subject to a 25% additional early-distribution tax instead of the normal 10%. The 2-year period is measured from the first day that contributions are deposited. These penalties are just what you’d pay on your federal return; your state may also charge an early-withdrawal penalty in addition to the regular state income tax.

Thus, before making any withdrawals from an IRA or other retirement plan, including a 401(k) plan, a 403(b) tax-sheltered annuity plan, or a self-employed retirement plan, carefully consider the resulting decrease in retirement savings and increase in taxes and penalties.

There are a number of exceptions to the 10% early-distribution tax; these depend on whether the money you withdraw is from an IRA or a retirement plan. However, even if you are not subject to the 10% penalty, you will still have to pay taxes on the distribution. The following exceptions may help you avoid the penalty:

  • Withdrawals from any retirement plan to pay medical expenses – Amounts withdrawn to pay unreimbursed medical expenses are exempt from penalty if they would be deductible on Schedule A during the year and if they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. This is true even if you do not itemize.
  • Withdrawals from any retirement plan as a result of a disability – You are considered disabled if you can furnish proof that you cannot perform any substantial gainful activities because of a physical or mental condition. A physician must certify your condition.
  • IRA withdrawals by unemployed individuals to pay medical insurance premiums – The amount that is exempt from penalty cannot be more than the amount you paid during the year for medical insurance for yourself, your spouse, and your dependents. You also must have received unemployment compensation for at least 12 weeks during the year.
  • IRA withdrawals to pay higher education expenses – Withdrawals made during the year for qualified higher education expenses for yourself, your spouse, or your children or grandchildren are exempt from the early-withdrawal penalty.
  • IRA withdrawals to buy, build, or rebuild a first home – Generally, you are considered a first-time homebuyer for this exception if you had no present interest in a main home during the 2-year period leading up to the date the home was acquired, and the distribution must be used to buy, build, or rebuild that home. If you are married, your spouse must also meet this no-ownership requirement. This exception applies only to the first $10,000 of withdrawals used for this purpose. If married, you and your spouse can each withdraw up to $10,000 penalty-free from your respective IRA accounts.
  • IRA withdrawals annuitized over your lifetime – To qualify, the withdrawals must continue unchanged for a minimum of 5 years, including after you reach age 59½.
  • Employer retirement plan withdrawals – To qualify, you must be separated from service and be age 55 or older in that year (the lower limit is age 50 for qualified public-service employees such as police officers and firefighters) or elect to receive the money in substantially equal periodic payments after your separation from service.

You should be aware that the information provided above is an overview of the penalty exceptions and that conditions other than those listed above may need to be met before qualifying for a particular exception. You are encouraged to contact this office before tapping your retirement funds for uses other than retirement. Distributions are most often subject to both normal taxes and other penalties, which can take a significant bite out of the distribution. However, with carefully planned distributions, both the taxes and the penalties can be minimized. Please call for assistance.

Big Tax Break for Adoptive Parents

If you are an adoptive parent or are planning to adopt a child, you may qualify for a substantial income-tax credit. The amount of the credit is based on any expenses incurred that are directly related to the adoption of a child under the age of 18 or a person who is physically or mentally incapable of self-care.

This is a 1:1 credit for each dollar of qualified expenses up to a maximum for the year, which is $13,570 for 2017 (up from $13,460 in 2016). The credit is nonrefundable, which means it can only reduce tax liability to zero (as opposed to potentially resulting in a cash refund). But the good news is that any unused credit can be used for up to five years to reduce future tax liability.

Qualified expenses generally include adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees and travel expenses that are reasonable, necessary and directly related to the adoption of the child, and may be for both domestic and foreign adoptions; however, expenses related to adopting a spouse’s child are not eligible for this credit. When adopting a child with special needs, the full credit is allowed whether or not any qualified expenses were incurred. A child with special needs is, among other requirements, a child who the state has determined (a) cannot or should not be returned to his or her parents’ home and (b) that the child won’t be adopted unless assistance is provided to the adoptive parents.

The credit is phased out for higher-income taxpayers. For 2017, the AGI (computed without foreign-income exclusions) phase-out threshold is $203,540, and at the AGI of $243,540, the credit is completely phased out. Unlike most phase-outs, this one is the same regardless of filing status. However, the credit cannot be claimed by taxpayers using the filing status married filing separately.

If your employer has an adoption-assistance program, up to $13,570 of reimbursements by the employer are excludable from income. Both the tax credit and the exclusion may be claimed, though not for the same expenses.

If you think you qualify for this credit or are planning an adoption in the future, please contact this office for further credit details and to find out how this credit can apply to your particular circumstances.

Deductions Eliminated Under Trump’s Tax Reform Proposal

One of President Trump’s key tax reforms is to eliminate all individual tax deductions except for those that incentivize home ownership, charitable contributions and retirement contributions. Although the administration’s one-page outline of the proposed tax reforms provides little detail, if all of the deductions except those noted are eliminated, the reform will impact both itemized deductions and income adjustments. This article will explore the deductions that the president’s proposal retains and those that it would eliminate, so you will be able to see how these changes could play out for your particular circumstances.

Deductions the Proposal Retains

Incentives for Home Ownership – Although Trump’s proposal provides no details about what “incentives for home ownership” means, this category would presumably include deductions for home-mortgage interest and property taxes. However, it is unknown if the plan will include the existing restrictions that limit the home-mortgage interest deduction to $1 million of home-acquisition debt and $100,000 of equity debt. It is also unclear if the incentives for home ownership would include second homes.

Charitable Contributions – Presumably, the plan would continue to be subject the 50%, 30% and 20% adjusted gross income (AGI) limits. The proposal does not address one of the most complicated areas (and one that is significantly abused) –contributions of overly valued property.

Retirement Contributions – Retirement contributions are deducted as an adjustment to income; this is frequently referred to as an above-the-line-deduction. Presumably, in the new plan, this still would include traditional IRAs and self-employed retirement plan contributions.

Itemized Deductions the Proposal Eliminates

Medical Itemized Deductions – Currently, medical deductions are already limited to those that exceed 10% of a taxpayer’s AGI. The Trump plan eliminates the medical deduction altogether, which would significantly impact senior citizens, especially those requiring significant elder care, and taxpayers who have incurred extraordinary medical expenses. What is curious about the elimination of the medical deduction is that, just a couple of months ago, as part of the failed ACA repeal, the administration wanted to reduce the medical AGI limitation and allow larger medical deductions. Now, it wants to eliminate them altogether.

Deduction for State And Local Taxes – Currently, deductions are allowed for state income tax, city and other income taxes, real and personal property taxes and (under certain circumstances) sales taxes.

Eliminating this deduction would have the most significant impact on taxpayers living in states that have income taxes. Taxpayers residing in those states would no longer be able to deduct their state and local income taxes and thus would be double-taxed on the same income. All but seven states have income tax, with California, New York and New Jersey imposing the highest rates. Support for this change is questionable, even among Republican senators, as representatives from states with income taxes will certainly want to retain the state income-tax deduction for their constituents.

Investment Interest Deduction – Currently, a deduction is allowed for investment interest in the amount of net investment income (investment income minus investment expenses). This means that the interest taxpayers pay on money that they borrow to purchase investments would no longer be deductible.

Casualty & Theft Losses – Every year, Americans deal with casualty losses from accidents, fires, floods, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters. Currently, those taxpayers can deduct casualty losses – generally to the extent that they exceed $100 per event and 10% of their AGI. Under Trump’s plan, this deduction would be eliminated, which penalizes taxpayers who are in the greatest need – those who are recovering from a disaster.

Employee Business Expenses – Currently, employee business expenses, including the home-office deduction for employees who work out of their own homes, are deductible as miscellaneous itemized deductions, but these deductions are limited to those expenses that exceed 2% of AGI. Under the Trump plan, this deduction would be eliminated. This could pose a serious handicap for telecommuting employees, who would then have the bear the cost of their own offices, office equipment and supplies. Another example are mechanics who must pay for their own (expensive) tools.

Legal Fees – Currently, legal fees are deductible when they are incurred for the protection or production of taxable income. This includes taxable awards as a result of winning or settling a lawsuit. Typically, legal fees are contingent upon the taxpayer winning the suit; they often represent a large percentage of the award. Without this deduction, the taxpayer would have to pay taxes on the entire award even though a significant portion went toward attorneys’ fees.

Gambling Losses – Currently, gambling losses are only deductible in an amount equal to gambling winnings. Under Trump’s plan, these losses would no longer be deductible, meaning that taxpayers would have to pay taxes on all their winnings – even if they have net losses. Senior citizens and others who gamble recreationally could be hit with significant taxes even when they actually lose money.

Other Deductions the Proposal Eliminates

The following deductions are not itemized deductions but are considered adjustments to income. This includes retirement-plan deductions (such as those for IRAs and self-employed retirement plans, including SEPs, SIMPLE and other qualified plans); all of these deductions would be retained. However, if all other deductions are eliminated, the eliminated deductions would include:

Teacher’s Expenses – This is the educator’s deduction for classroom supplies (up to $250 per year). The 2015 PATH Act recently made this deduction permanent.

Health Savings Account (HSA) Deduction – Individuals with high-deductible health insurance can currently deduct contributions to HSA plans when the funds are used to pay qualified medical expenses. It is doubtful that this deduction will actually be eliminated, as HSAs are a key element of the administration’s plan to replace Obamacare.

Moving Expenses – Individuals who move over 50 miles as a result of a change in work location and who work at the new location for a minimum period of time can deduct the cost of the move.

Self-Employed Health-Insurance Deduction – Self-employed individuals, including partners and those who hold more than 2% of an S corporation’s shares, can deduct the cost of their own medical insurance as well as that of their spouse and dependents, subject to certain conditions.

Penalty for Early Withdrawal of Savings – When taxpayers withdraw from term savings accounts, they may incur interest penalties, which are deductible. This deduction was implemented to avoid having taxpayers pay taxes on interest income that they did not receive.

Alimony Paid – When a taxpayer pays alimony to a former spouse, that alimony is taxable for the recipient. To avoid taxing both parties on the same income, the one who makes the payments is allowed to deduct the alimony paid. Eliminating this deduction would have a significant impact on taxpayers who pay alimony.

Student-Loan Interest Deduction – This rules allows for a deduction of up to $2,500 for interest paid on student loans.

Domestic-Production Activities Deduction – Tax law includes a special tax deduction that encourages domestic production (as opposed to foreign production). C-corporations take this deduction on their corporate tax returns; self-employed individuals, partners and S-corporation shareholders must take this deduction on their 1040. It is doubtful that Congress would continue to allow this deduction for corporations while also discriminating against self-employed taxpayers by not allowing them to take the deduction.

We can only wonder if the president expects all of these deductions to be eliminated; perhaps he only proposed the eliminations as a tool to start negotiations with Congress. Details are not promised to arrive until June, so we will have to wait and see how this plays out.

This is the second in a series of articles related to President Trump’s tax reform outline. Click here to read the first summary of the Trump Tax Reform.

QuickBooks TIP: Receiving Customer Payments

It’s one of your more pleasant tasks as a QuickBooks user: receiving payments from customers. Here’s how it works.

QuickBooks was designed to make your daily accounting tasks easier, faster, and more accurate. If you’ve been using the software for a while, you’ve probably found that to be true. Some chores, of course, aren’t so enjoyable. Like paying bills. Reconciling your bank account. Or anything else that has the potential to reduce the balance in your checking accounts.

The process of receiving customer payments is one of your more enjoyable responsibilities. You supplied a product or service that someone liked and purchased, and you’re getting the money due you.

Depending on the situation, you’ll use one of multiple methods to record customer payments. Here’s a look at some of your options.

A Familiar Screen
If you’re like many businesses, you send invoices to customers to let them know what they owe and when their payment is due. So one of the most commonly used ways to record payments is by using the Receive Payments window. To open it, click the Receive Payments icon on the home page or click Customers | Receive Payments.

QuickBooks Tip customer payment
You’ll use QuickBooks’ Receive Payments screen when you record a payment made in response to an invoice.

The first thing you’ll do, of course, is choose the correct customer by clicking the down arrow in the field to the right of RECEIVED FROM. The outstanding balance from that customer will appear in the upper right corner, and invoice information will be displayed in the table below. Enter the PAYMENT AMOUNT and make sure the DATE is correct. (The next field, REFERENCE #, changes to CHECK # only if the CHECK option is selected.)

Next, you’ll need to ensure that the payment is applied to the right invoices. If it covers the whole amount due, there will be a checkmark in every row in the first column of the table. If not, QuickBooks will use the money received to pay off the oldest invoices first. To change this, click Un-Apply Payment in the icon bar and click in front of the correct rows to create checkmarks.

Several Options
You’ll then want to tell QuickBooks what payment method the customer is using. Four options are displayed. The possibilities that are visible here are:

  • CASH
  • CHECK
  • CREDIT DEBIT (A specific card type may be shown here if you’ve indicated the customer’s preferred payment method in his or her record.)
  • e-CHECK

If the desired payment method isn’t included in those four, click the down arrow under MORE. If it’s still not there, click Add New Payment Method. This window will open:

QuickBooks Tip payment method
The New Payment Method window

Click OK. When you choose your new payment method from the list, a window opens containing fields for the card number and expiration date. Click Done after you’ve entered it, and you’ll be returned to the Receive Payments screen. If you’re satisfied with your work there, click Save & Close or Save & New.

Haven’t gotten set up to accept credit and debit cards yet? We can get you going with a merchant account to make this possible. You’re likely to find that some customers pay faster with this option. Your customers will be able to click a link in an emailed invoice and make their payments.

Instant Sales
Depending on the type of business you have and its physical location, there may be times when customers will come in and buy something on the spot. You’ll need to give them a Sales Receipt. Click Create Sales Receipts on the home page or open the Customers menu and select Enter Sales Receipts to open this window:

QuickBooks Tip Sales receipt
The Enter Sales Receipts window

You’ll complete this form much like you entered data in the fields of the Receive Payments window. As you can see, you can print the mail for the customer and/or email it.

After all the hard work you’ve done to make your sales, the last thing you want to do is record a payment incorrectly so it isn’t processed and you don’t get paid. Though QuickBooks makes the mechanics of receiving payments simple enough, you still should understand the entire process involved in getting income into the correct accounts. We’re available to help with this and any other areas of QuickBooks.

Naming Your IRA Beneficiary – More Complicated Than You Might Expect

The decision concerning whom you wish to designate as the beneficiary of your traditional IRA is critically important. This decision affects:

  • The minimum amounts you must withdraw from the IRA when you reach age 70 ½;
  • Who will get what remains in the account after your death; and
  • How that IRA balance can be paid out to beneficiaries.

What’s more, a periodic review of whom you’ve named as IRA beneficiaries is vital to ensure that your overall estate planning objectives will be achieved in light of changes in the performance of your IRAs and in your personal, financial, and family situation. For example, if your spouse was named as your beneficiary when you first opened the account several years ago and you’ve subsequently divorced, your ex-spouse will remain the beneficiary of your IRA unless you notify your IRA custodian to change the beneficiary designation.

The issue of naming a trust as the beneficiary of an IRA comes up regularly. There is no tax advantage to naming a trust as the IRA beneficiary. Of course, there may be a non-tax-related reason, such as controlling a beneficiary’s access to money; thus, naming a trust rather than an individual(s) as the beneficiary of an IRA could achieve that goal. However, that is not typically the case. Naming a trust as the beneficiary of an IRA eliminates the ability for multiple beneficiaries to maximize the opportunity to stretch the required minimum distributions (RMDs) over their individual life expectancies.

Generally, trusts are drafted so that IRA RMDs will pass through the trust directly to the individual trust beneficiary and, therefore, be taxed at the beneficiary’s income tax rate. However, if the trust does not permit distribution to the beneficiary, then the RMDs will be taxed at the trust level, which has a tax rate of 39.6% on any taxable income in excess of $12,500 (2017 rate). This high tax rate applies at a much lower income level than for individuals.

Distributions from traditional IRAs are always taxable whether they are paid to you or, upon your death, paid to your beneficiaries. Once you reach age 70 ½, you are required to begin taking distributions from your IRA. If your spouse is your beneficiary, he or she can delay distributions until he or she reaches age 70 ½ if your spouse is under the age of 70 ½ upon the inheritance of your IRA. The rules are tougher for non-spousal beneficiaries, who generally must begin taking distributions based upon a complicated set of rules.

Since IRA distributions are taxable to beneficiaries, beneficiaries usually wish to spread the taxation over a number of years. However, the tax code limits the number of years based on whether the decedent has begun his or her age 70 ½ RMDs at the time of his or her death.

To ensure that your IRA will pass to your chosen beneficiary or beneficiaries, be certain that the beneficiary form on file with the custodian of your IRA reflects your current wishes. These forms allow you to designate both primary and alternate individual beneficiaries. If there is no beneficiary form on file, the custodian’s default policy will dictate whether the IRA will go first to a living person or to your estate.

This is a simplified overview of the issues related to naming a beneficiary and the impact on post-death distributions. Uncle Sam wants the tax paid on the distributions, and the rules pertaining to how and when beneficiaries must take taxable distributions are very complicated.

It should also be noted that some members of Congress have expressed their displeasure with stretch-out IRAs that have permitted some beneficiaries to extend for decades the payout period from the IRAs they inherited. These legislators would prefer that total distribution from inherited IRAs be made within five years after the IRA owner’s death. So it is possible that we will see tax law changes in this area.

It may be appropriate to consult with this office regarding your particular circumstances before naming beneficiaries.

Deducting Convention Expenses

Generally, an individual can deduct travel expenses from attending conventions, seminars or similar types of meetings within the North American area, provided that attendance benefits the taxpayer’s trade or business. However, family members’ travel expenses are not deductible, and neither are expenses from attending investment, political, social or other types of meetings not related to the taxpayer’s trade or business.

The North American area includes the United States, U.S. possessions, Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, Barbados, Costa Rica, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago. For a more detailed list, consult IRS Publication 463.

Thus, the entire cost of transportation and lodging, plus 50% of the meal expenses, is deductible for meetings held within the North American area.

Meetings Outside the North American Area – Deducting travel expenses for a convention or meeting outside the North American area has requirements:

  • The meeting must be directly related to the taxpayer’s trade or business (whereas meetings within the North American area need only benefit the taxpayer’s trade or business), and
  • It must be reasonable to hold the meeting outside the North American area. There is no specific definition of “reasonable” for this purpose, which places the burden of proof on the taxpayer. Considerations include the meeting’s purpose and activities and the location of the meeting sponsors’ homes.

Even if the above requirements are met, the amount of deduction allowed depends upon the primary purpose of the trip and on the time spent on nonbusiness activities:

  1. If the entire time is devoted to business, all ordinary and necessary travel expenses are deductible.
  2. If the travel is primarily for vacation and only a few hours are spent attending professional seminars, none of the expenses incurred in traveling to and from the business location are deductible.
  3. If, during a business trip, personal activities take place at, near or beyond the business destination, then the expenses incurred in traveling to and from the business location have to be appropriately allocated between the business and nonbusiness expenses.
  4. If the travel is for a period of one week or less, or if less than 25% of the total time is spent on nonbusiness activities (on a day-by-day basis), then the travel deductions are treated the same as they would be for travel within the North American area.

Meetings Held on Cruise Ships – When a convention or meeting is held on a cruise ship and is directly related to a taxpayer’s trade or business, the taxpayer is limited to $2,000 per year in deductions for expenses from attending such conventions, seminars, or similar meetings. All ships that sail are considered cruise ships. The following rules also apply:

  • The cruise ship must be registered in the United States.
  • All of the cruise ship’s ports of call must be in the United States or its possessions.

If you have questions related to the deductibility of expenses from conventions and meetings or from foreign travel, please give this office a call.

Tax Implications of Crowdfunding

Raising money through Internet crowdfunding sites prompts questions about the taxability of the money raised. A number of sites host money-raising projects for fees ranging from 5 to 9%, including GoFundMe, Kickstarter, and Indiegogo. Each site specifies its own charges, limitations, and withdrawal processes. Whether the money raised is taxable depends upon the purpose of the fundraising campaign.

Gifts – When an entity raises funds for its own benefit and the contributions are made out of detached generosity (and not because of any moral or legal duty or the incentive of anticipated economic benefit), the contributions are considered tax-free gifts to the recipient.

On the other hand, the contributor is subject to the gift tax rules if he or she contributes more than $14,000 to a particular fundraising effort that benefits one individual; the contributor is then liable to file a gift tax return. Unfortunately, regardless of the need, gifts to individuals are never tax deductible.

The “gift tax trap” occurs when an individual establishes a crowdfunding account to help someone else in need (whom we’ll call the beneficiary) and takes possession of the funds before passing the money on to the beneficiary. Because the fundraiser takes possession of the funds, the contributions are treated as a tax-free gift to the fundraiser. However, when the fundraiser passes the money on to the beneficiary, the money then is treated as a gift from the fundraiser to the beneficiary; if the amount is over $14,000, the fundraiser is required to file a gift tax return and to reduce his or her lifetime gift and estate tax exemption. Some crowdfunding sites allow the fundraiser to designate a beneficiary so that the beneficiary has direct access to the funds.

Charitable Gifts – Even if the funds are being raised for a qualified charity, the contributors cannot deduct the donations as charitable contributions without proper documentation. Taxpayers cannot deduct cash contributions, regardless of the amount, unless they can document the contributions in one of the following ways:

  • Contribution Less Than $250: To claim a deduction for a contribution of less than $250, the taxpayer must have a cancelled check, a bank or credit card statement, or a letter from the qualified organization; this proof must show the name of the organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.
  • Cash contributions of $250 or More – To claim a deduction for a contribution of $250 or more, the taxpayer must have a written acknowledgment of the contribution from the qualified organization; this acknowledgment must include the following details:
    • The amount of cash contributed;
    • Whether the qualified organization gave the taxpayer goods or services (other than certain token items and membership benefits) as a result of the contribution, along with a description and good-faith estimate of the value of those goods or services (other than intangible religious benefits); and
    • A statement that the only benefit received was an intangible religious benefit, if that was the case.

Thus, if the contributor is to claim a charitable deduction for the cash donation, some means of providing the contributor with a receipt must be established.

Business Ventures – When raising money for business projects, two issues must be contended with: the taxability of the money raised and the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations that come into play if the contributor is given an ownership interest in the venture.

  • No Business Interest Given – This applies when the fundraiser only provides nominal gifts, such as products from the business, coffee cups, or T-shirts; the money raised is taxable to the fundraiser.
  • Business Interest Provided – This applies when the fundraiser provides the contributor with partial business ownership in the form of stock or a partnership interest; the money raised is treated as a capital contribution and is not taxable to the fundraiser. (The amount contributed becomes the contributor’s tax basis in the investment.) When the fundraiser is selling business ownership, the resulting sales must comply with SEC regulations, which generally require any such offering to be registered with the SEC. However, the SEC regulations were modified in 2012 to carve out a special exemption for crowdfunding:
    • Fundraising Maximum – The maximum amount a business can raise without registering its offering with the SEC in a 12-month period is $1 million. Non-U.S. companies, businesses without a business plan, firms that report under the Exchange Act, certain investment companies, and companies that have failed to meet their reporting responsibilities may not participate.
    • Contributor Maximum – The amount an individual can invest through crowdfunding in any 12-month period is limited:
      • If the individual’s annual income or net worth is less than $100,000, his or her equity investment through crowdfunding is limited to the greater of $2,000 or 5% of the investor’s annual net worth.
      • If the individual’s annual income or net worth is at least $100,000, his or her investment via crowdfunding is limited to 10% of the investor’s net worth or annual income, whichever is less, up to an aggregate limit of $100,000.

If you have questions about crowdfunding-related tax issues, please give this office a call.

Uber (and Lyft) Drivers’ Tax Treatment

If you are one of the many individuals in the ridesharing business who is working through services such as Uber or Lyft – or if you are thinking of getting into this business – you may have some questions about the tax issues associated with this fast-growing business model. Generally, these drivers do not work full time, and their driving jobs are supplementary to their primary employment.

Uber and Lyft treat drivers as independent contractors as opposed to employees. However, more than 70 pending lawsuits in federal court, plus an unknown number in the state courts, are challenging this independent contractor status. As the courts have not yet reached a decision on that dispute, this analysis does not address the potential employee/independent contractor issue related to rideshare divers; it only deals with the tax treatment of drivers who are independent contractors, using Uber as the example.

How Uber Works – Each fare (customer) establishes an account with Uber using a credit card (CC), Paypal, or another method. The fare uses the Uber smartphone app to request a ride, and an Uber driver picks that person up and takes him or her to the destination. Generally, no money changes hands, as Uber charges the fare’s CC, deducts both its fee and the CC processing fee, and then deposits the net amount into the driver’s bank account.

Income Reporting – Uber issues each driver a Form 1099-K reflecting the total amount charged for the driver’s fares. Because the IRS will treat the 1099-K as gross business income, it must be included on line 1 (gross income) of the driver’s Schedule C before adjusting for the CC and Uber service fees. Uber then deposits the net amount into the driver’s bank account, reflecting the fares minus the CC and Uber fees. Thus, the sum of the year’s deposits from Uber can be subtracted from the 1099-K amount, and the difference can be taken as an expense or as a cost of goods sold. Currently, a third party operates Uber’s billing, coordinates the drivers’ fares and issues the drivers’ 1099-Ks.

Automobile Operating Expenses – Uber also provides an online statement to its drivers that details the miles driven with fares and the dollar amounts for both the fares and the bank deposits.

Although the Uber statement mentioned above includes the miles driven for each fare, this figure only represents the miles between a fare’s pickup point and delivery point. It does not reflect the additional miles driven between fares. Drivers should maintain a mileage log to track their total miles and substantiate their business mileage.

A driver can choose to use the actual-expense method or the optional mileage rate when determining operating expenses. However, the actual-expense method requires far more detailed recordkeeping, including records of both business and total miles and costs of fuel, insurance, repairs, etc. Drivers may find the standard mileage rate far less complicated because they only need to keep a contemporaneous record of business miles, the purposes of each trip and the total miles driven for the year. For 2017, the standard mileage rate is 53.5 cents per mile, down from 54.0 cents per mile in 2016.

Whether using the actual-expense method or the standard mileage rate, the costs of tolls and airport fees are also deductible.

When the actual-expense method is chosen in the first year that a vehicle is used for business, that method must be used for the duration of the vehicle’s business use. On the other hand, if the standard mileage rate is used in the first year, the owner can switch between the standard mileage rate and the actual-expense method each year (using straight-line deprecation).

Business Use Of The Home – Because drivers conduct all of their business from their vehicle, and because Uber provides an online accounting of income (including Uber fees and CC charges), it would be extremely difficult to justify an expense claim for a home office. Some argue that the portion of the garage where the vehicle is parked could be claimed as a business use of the home. The falsity with that argument is that, to qualify as a home office, the space must be used exclusively for business; because it is virtually impossible to justify that a vehicle was used 100% of the time for business, this exclusive requirement cannot be met.

Without a business use of the home deduction, the distance driven to pick up the first fare each day and the distance driven when returning home at the end of a shift are considered nondeductible commuting miles.

Vehicle Write-off – The luxury auto rules limit the annual depreciation deduction, but regulations exempt from these rules any vehicle that a taxpayer uses directly in the trade or business of transporting persons or property for compensation or hire. As a result, a driver can take advantage of several options for writing off the cost of the vehicle. These include immediate expensing, the depreciation of 50% of the vehicle’s cost, normal deprecation or a combination of all three, allowing owner-operators to pick almost any amount of write-off to best suit their particular circumstances, provided that they use the actual-expense method for their vehicles.

The options for immediate expensing and depreciating 50% of the cost are available only in the year when the vehicle is purchased and only if it is also put into business use during that year. If the vehicle was purchased in a year prior to the year that it is first used in the rideshare business, either the fair market value at that time or the original cost, whichever is lower, is depreciated over 5 years.

Cash Tips – Here, care must be taken, as Uber does not permit fares to include tips in their CC charges but Lyft does. Any cash tips that drivers receive must be included in their Schedule C gross income.

Deductions Other Than the Vehicle – Possible other deductions include:

  • Cell phone service
  • Liability insurance
  • Water for the fares

Self-Employment Tax – Because the drivers are treated as self-employed individuals, they are also subject to the self-employment tax, which is the equivalent to payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare withholdings) for employees—except the rate is double because a self-employed individual must pay both the employer’s and the employee’s shares.

If you are currently a driver for Uber or Lyft, or if you think that you may want to get into that business, and if you have questions about taxation in the rideshare industry and how it might affect your situation, please give this office a call.

Consequences of Filing Married Separate

If you are married and thinking about not filing a joint return with your spouse, you will most likely use the married filing separate (MFS) filing status. If you are considering filing MFS, then you should be aware that the tax code is laced with special restrictions so that married individuals cannot benefit by filing MFS. This article describes some of the more frequently encountered issues when making the choice of filing status. Note: dollar amounts are those for 2017.

Joint & Several Liability – When married taxpayers file joint returns, both spouses are responsible for the tax on that return. What this means is that one spouse may be held liable for all the tax due on a return, even if the other spouse earned all the income on that return. In some marriages, this becomes an issue and causes the spouses to decide to file separately. In other cases, especially second marriages, the couple may want to keep their finances separate. Unless all the income, exemptions, credits and deductions are divided equally, which usually happens in community property states, this generally causes the incomes to be distorted and could easily push one of the spouses into a higher tax bracket and create a greater combined tax than filing jointly. Being in a separate property state, where each spouse claims their own earnings, can also create an uneven allocation of income and a higher tax bracket for one of the spouses.

Exemptions – Taxpayers are allowed a $4,050 tax exemption for each of their dependents. However, the $4,050 allowance cannot be divided between the MFS filers, so only one of the filers can claim a dependent’s exemption, and where there are multiple dependents, the spouses would need to allocate the exemptions between them.

Itemizing Deductions – To prevent taxpayers from filing MFS and one spouse taking advantage of itemized deductions and the other utilizing the standard deduction, the tax regulations require both to itemize if one of them does.

Social Security Income – When filing a joint return, Social Security (SS) income is not taxable until the modified AGI (MAGI) – which is regular AGI (without Social Security income) plus 50% of the couple’s Social Security income plus tax-exempt interest income and plus certain other infrequently encountered additions – exceeds a taxable threshold of $32,000. However, for married taxpayers who have lived together at any time during the year and are filing married separate, the threshold is zero, generally making more of the Social Security income taxable.

Section 179 Deduction – Businesses can elect to expense, instead of depreciate, up to $510,000 of business purchases, generally including equipment, certain qualified leasehold property and off-the-shelf computer software. The $510,000 cap is reduced by $1 for every $1 that the qualifying purchases exceed $2,030,000 for the year. Married taxpayers are treated as one taxpayer for purposes of the Section 179 expense limit. Thus, they generally must split the limit equally unless they can agree upon and elect an unequal split.

Special Passive Loss Allowance – Passive losses are generally losses from business and rental activities in which a taxpayer does not materially participate. Those losses are not allowed except to offset income from other passive activities. Rental property is an example of a passive activity, and for lower-income taxpayers, a special allowance permits taxpayers who are actively involved in the rental activity to currently deduct a loss of up to $25,000 if their AGI does not exceed $100,000. That $25,000 special loss allowance phases out by 50 cents for each $1 of AGI over $100,000 and is completely eliminated when the AGI reaches $150,000. When filing separately, this special allowance is not allowed unless the spouses live apart the entire year, and then the allowance is reduced to $12,500 each.

Traditional IRA Deduction Phase-Out – If a married taxpayer filing jointly is participating in a qualified employer pension plan, the deductibility of a traditional IRA contribution is phased out ratably for an AGI between $99,000 and $119,000. If the taxpayers file married separate, the phase-out begins at $0 if the taxpayer participates in their employer’s plan, and when the AGI reaches $10,000, no traditional IRA deduction is allowed. So little, if any, IRA deduction will be available to such an MFS filer.

Roth IRA Contribution Phase-Out – Taxpayers may choose to contribute to a non-deductible Roth IRA. However, Roth IRA contributions are ratably phased out for higher-income married filing jointly taxpayers with an AGI between $186,000 and $196,000. For a married taxpayer filing MFS status, that AGI phase-out range drops to $0 through $9,999, virtually eliminating the possibility of a Roth contribution.

Coverdell Education Accounts – Taxpayers are allowed to contribute up to $2,000 per beneficiary to a Coverdell education savings account annually. However for joint filers, the amount that can be contributed ratably phases out for AGIs between $190,000 and $220,000. For married filing separate taxpayers, the phase-out is half that amount, from $95,000 to $110,000.

Education Tax Credits – Taxpayers are allowed a tax credit, called the American Opportunity Tax Credit, of up to $2,500 per family member enrolled at least half-time in college for the cost of tuition and qualified expenses. This credit phases out ratably for higher-income married taxpayers filing jointly with an AGI between $160,000 and $180,000. There is a second higher-education credit called the Lifetime Learning Credit, which provides a credit of up to $2,000 per family. This credit also phases out ratably for higher-income married taxpayers filing jointly with an AGI between $112,000 and $132,000.

However, neither credit is allowed for married filing separate taxpayers.

Higher Education Interest – Taxpayers can take a deduction of up to $2,500 for student loan interest paid on higher-education loans. Like other benefits, it is phased out for higher-income married taxpayers filing jointly, in this instance when the AGI is between $135,000 and $165,000. It is not allowed at all for taxpayers filing as married separate.

Education Exclusion For U.S. Savings Bond Interest – Although not frequently encountered, interest from certain U.S. Savings Bonds can be excluded if used to pay higher-education expenses for the taxpayers and their dependents. The exclusion phases out for married taxpayers with an AGI between $117,250 and $147,250. This deduction is not allowed at all when filing married separate.

Premium Tax Credit – For married taxpayers who qualify for the PTC (health insurance subsidy) under Obamacare, if they file married separate, they may be required to repay the subsidy.

Earned Income Tax Credit – This is a refundable tax credit that rewards lower-income taxpayers for working and can be as much $6,318 for families with three or more qualifying children. Taxpayers filing as married separate are not qualified for this credit.

Child Care Credit – If both spouses work and incur child care expenses, they qualify for the child care credit. However, for those married filing separate, the credit is not allowed.

Halved Deductions & Credits – Many of the deductions and credits allowed to a married couple filing jointly are cut in half for the married filing separate filing status. They include:

  • Standard Deduction
  • Standard Deduction Phase-Out
  • Alternative Minimum Tax Exemptions
  • Alternative Minimum Tax Exemptions Phase-Outs
  • Child Tax Credit Phase-Out

Head of Household Filing Status – Where a married couple is not filing jointly, one or both spouses may qualify for the more beneficial Head of Household (HH) filing status rather than having to file using the MFS status. A married individual may use the HH status if they lived apart from their spouse for at least the last six months of the year and paid more than one-half of the cost of maintaining his or her home as a principal place of abode for more than one-half the year of a child, stepchild or eligible foster child for whom the taxpayer may claim a dependency exemption. (A nondependent child only qualifies if the custodial parent gave written consent to allow the dependency to the non-custodial parent or if the non-custodial parent has the right to claim the dependency under a pre-’85 divorce agreement.)

As you can see, there are a significant number of issues that need to be considered when making the decision to use the married filing separate status. And these are not all of them, but only the more significant ones. The filing status decision should not be made nonchalantly, as it can have significant impact on your taxes. Please contact this office for assistance in making that crucial decision.