If You Owe the IRS a Lot of Money, You May Not Want to Plan Any Out-of-the-Country Trips

As promised several months back, the IRS has begun to crack down on seriously delinquent taxpayers. A law passed on Dec. 4, 2015, that requires the IRS to notify the U.S. State Department when someone has “seriously delinquent tax debt,” after which the State Department will generally deny an application for issuance or renewal of a passport for that individual and can even revoke or limit a previously issued passport.

It has taken the IRS and the State Department some time to establish the procedures for this program, but they are finally in place and are being implemented in January 2018.

A “seriously delinquent tax debt” is the unpaid, legally enforceable, and assessed federal tax liability of an individual that is greater than $51,000, for which a notice of federal tax lien has been filed and the taxpayer’s right to a hearing has been exhausted or lapsed, or a levy has been issued. The total amount of all current tax liabilities (including penalties and interest) for all tax years and periods meeting these criteria is included in determining if the $51,000 threshold is met.

Seriously delinquent tax debts do not include those for which the IRS or the Justice Department and a taxpayer have entered into a valid payment agreement, such as an installment agreement or an offer-in-compromise payment plan. Tax debts for which collection has been suspended pending a due-process hearing or those suspended as a result of an innocent spouse claim are also excluded from the definition of a seriously delinquent tax debt.

The law requires the IRS to contemporaneously notify a taxpayer when it has certified the taxpayer as having a seriously delinquent tax debt, so that the taxpayer has time to request a judicial review before steps are taken to deny or revoke a passport.

This provision does not apply to an individual serving in a combat zone or participating in a contingency operation.

If you or someone you travel with has a seriously delinquent tax debt and you have questions about this subject, please give us a call.

2018 Standard Mileage Rates Announced

As it does every year, the Internal Revenue Service recently announced the inflation- adjusted 2018 optional standard mileage rates used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable or medical purposes.

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2018, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (or a van, pickup or panel truck) are:

  • 54.5 cents per mile for business miles driven (including a 25-cent-per-mile allocation for depreciation). This is up from 53.5 cents in 2017;
  • 18 cents per mile driven for medical purposes. This is up from 17 cents in 2017; and
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations.

The business standard mileage rate is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile. The rate for medical purposes is based on the variable costs as determined by the same study. The rate for using an automobile while performing services for a charitable organization is statutorily set (it can only be changed by Congressional action) and has been 14 cents per mile for over 15 years.

Important Consideration: The 2018 rates are based on 2017 fuel costs. Based on the potential for substantially higher gas prices in 2018, it may be appropriate to consider switching to the actual expense method for 2018, or at least keeping track of the actual expenses, including fuel costs, repairs, maintenance, etc., so that the option is available for 2018.

Taxpayers always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using their vehicle for business rather than using the standard mileage rates. In addition to the potential for higher fuel prices, the extension and expansion of the bonus depreciation as well as increased depreciation limitations for passenger autos in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act may make using the actual expense method worthwhile during the first year a vehicle is placed in business service. However, the standard mileage rates cannot be used if you have used the actual method (using Sec. 179, bonus depreciation and/or MACRS depreciation) in previous years. This rule is applied on a vehicle-by-vehicle basis. In addition, the business standard mileage rate cannot be used for any vehicle used for hire or for more than four vehicles simultaneously.

Employer Reimbursement – When employers reimburse employees for business-related car expenses using the standard mileage allowance method for each substantiated employment-connected business mile, the reimbursement is tax-free if the employee substantiates to the employer the time, place, mileage and purpose of employment-connected business travel.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated employee business expenses as an itemized deduction, effective for 2018 through 2025. Therefore, employees may no longer take a deduction on their federal returns for unreimbursed employment-related use of their autos, light trucks or vans.

Faster Write-Offs for Heavy Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) – Many of today’s SUVs weigh more than 6,000 pounds and are therefore not subject to the limit rules on luxury auto depreciation; taxpayers with these vehicles can utilize both the Section 179 expense deduction (up to a maximum of $25,000) and the bonus depreciation (the Section 179 deduction must be applied before the bonus depreciation) to produce a sizable first-year tax deduction. However, the vehicle cannot exceed a gross unloaded vehicle weight of 14,000 pounds. Caution: Business autos are 5-year class life property. If the taxpayer subsequently disposes of the vehicle before the end of the 5-year period, as many do, a portion of the Section 179 expense deduction will be recaptured and must be added back to your income (SE income for self-employed individuals). The future ramifications of deducting all or a significant portion of the vehicle’s cost using Section 179 should be considered.

If you have questions related to the best methods of deducting the business use of your vehicle or the documentation required, please give us a call.

New Tax Law Cracks Down on Home Mortgage Interest

Note: The is one of a series of articles explaining how the various tax changes made by the GOP’s Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (referred to as the “Act” in the article), passed late in December 2017, might affect you and your family in 2018 and future years. These articles offer strategies you might employ to reduce your tax liability under the new tax laws.

For years, taxpayers have been able to deduct home mortgage interest on their primary and second homes as an itemized deduction, subject to certain limitations. The interest deduction was limited to the interest on up to $1 million of acquisition debt and $100,000 of equity debt.

Acquisition debt is debt incurred to purchase, construct or substantially improve a taxpayer’s principal or second home. So when you purchased your home, that original loan was acquisition debt, and if you later borrowed additional money that you used to add a room, pool, etc., that loan was also acquisition debt. However, if the total of all of your acquisition loans exceeded the $1 million limit, then the interest on the excess debt over $1 million was not deductible as acquisition debt interest.

Consumer debt interest, such as interest on auto loans and credit card debt, is not deductible as an itemized deduction. However, years ago, Congress allowed homeowners to deduct the interest on up to $100,000 of equity debt. This allowed homeowners to use the equity in their homes for any purpose and deduct the interest on the equity debt as an itemized deduction.

Well, That Has All Changed. For 2018 through 2025, the new tax law reduces the $1 million limit on home acquisition debt to $750,000 ($375,000 for married separate filers), except that the lower limit won’t apply to indebtedness incurred before December 15, 2017. That is, the $1M cap continues to apply to acquisition mortgages on primary and second residences that were already in existence prior to December 15, 2017, as well as for taxpayers who entered into a binding written contract before that date to close on the purchase of a principal residence before January 1, 2018, and who purchase that residence before April 1, 2018.

The Equity Debt Interest Deduction Is No More – Congress has yanked the rug out from under those with equity debt on their homes. Beginning in 2018, interest paid on equity debt will no longer be allowed as a deduction, regardless of when the debt was incurred.

This seems a little unfair and can have an adverse impact on individuals who used their home as a piggy bank for personal expense purposes.

Whether any of this makes any difference in light of the new higher standard deduction amounts for 2018, and whether you should be looking for ways to pay down the equity debt, will depend upon the amounts of your other itemized deductions. Please call us if you have questions.

Will Your 2018 Withholding Be Right?

Note: The is one of a series of articles explaining how the various tax changes made by the GOP’s Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (referred to as the “Act” in the article), passed late in December 2017, might effect you and your family in 2018 and future years. These articles offer strategies you might employ to reduce your tax liability under the new tax laws.

One of the first trouble spots of the new tax reform is the W-2 withholding for 2018. Passage of the new law in late December hasn’t given the IRS much time to develop new withholding tables. This can be a big issue, as the recent Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (TCJA) substantially altered the tax rates and standard deductions, did away with exemption deductions, and increased the child tax credits—all elements of how the withholding allowances and tables have been structured in the past.

On January 11, the IRS released modified withholding tables for employers to use for determining employee withholding. Supposedly the new withholding tables have been crafted to use the information employers already have from employees’ prior Form W-4s on file to adjust their employees’ withholding, taking into account the tax cuts for individuals included in the TCJA.

The IRS is also working on revising the Form W-4 to reflect additional modifications in the new law, such as changes in available itemized deductions, increases in the child tax credit, the new dependent credit and repeal of the dependent exemptions deduction.

When available, the new Form W-4 can be used by employees who wish to update their withholding in response to the new law or changes in their personal circumstances in 2018 and by workers starting a new job. Until a new Form W-4 is issued, employees and employers should continue to use the 2017 Form W-4.

You are cautioned to keep an eye on your take-home pay to ensure your withholding has not changed too drastically once your employer starts using the new IRS tables. Most wage earners should see a decrease in withholding (and a larger net paycheck), but if the change is too radical you could end up owing tax next year when you file your 2018 return.

If you are self-employed and/or have other sources of taxable income in addition to wages, or if you itemize your deductions, the wage withholding by your employer based upon your existing Form W-4 probably will not provide the correct withholding, and you may need to make adjustments to your withholding allowances or even make estimated tax payments.

As 2018 is the first year that the vast majority of the provisions of TCJA will apply, you should be cautious that your withholding is not too little, resulting in a tax due next filing season, or too high, denying you the benefits of the tax cut until you receive your refund next year.

Please call us if you need assistance in determining your withholding or if you have questions about the new tax law.

Five QuickBooks Reports You Need to Run in January

Does your accounting to-do list look like a clean slate, or are critical 2017 tasks still nagging?

Getting all of your accounting tasks done in December is always a challenge. In addition to the vacation time you and your employees may have taken over the holidays, there year-end projects.

How did you do last month? Were you ready to move forward when you got back to the office in January? Or did you run out of time and have to leave some accounting chores undone?

Besides paying bills and chasing payments, submitting taxes and counting inventory in December, there’s another item that should have been on your to-do list: creating end-of-year reports. If you didn’t get this done, it’s not too late. It’s important to have this information as you begin the New Year. QuickBooks can provide it.

A Report Dashboard
You may be using the Reports menu to access the pre-built frameworks that QuickBooks offers. Have you ever explored the Report Center, though? You can get there by clicking Reports in the navigation toolbar or Reports | Report Center on the drop-down menu at the top of the screen.

QuickBooks’ Report Center introduces you to all of the software’s report templates and helps you access them quickly.

As you can see in the image above, the Report Center divides QuickBooks’ reports into categories and displays samples of each. Click on one of the tabs at the top if you want to:
  • Memorize a report using any customization you applied.
  • Designate a report as a Favorite.
  • See a list of the most Recent reports you ran.
  • Explore reports beyond those included with QuickBooks, Contributed by Intuit or other parties.

Recommended Reports
Here are the reports we think you should run as soon as possible if you didn’t have a chance to in December:

Budget vs Actual
We hope that by now you’ve at least started to create a budget for 2018. If not, the best way to begin is by looking at how close you came to your numbers in 2017. QuickBooks actually offers four budget-related reports, but Budget vs Actual is the most important; it tells you how your actual income and expenses compare to what was budgeted.

Budget Overview is just what it sounds like: a comprehensive accounting of your budget for a given period. Profit & Loss Budget Performance is similar to Budget vs Actual. It compares actual to budget amounts for the month, fiscal year-to-date, and annual. Budget vs Actual Graph provides a visual representation of your income and expenses, giving you a quick look at whether you were over or under budget during specific periods.

Income & Expense Graph
You’ve probably been watching your income and expenses all year in one way or another. But you need to look at the whole year in total to see where you stand. This graph shows you both how income compares to expenses and what the largest sources of each are. It doesn’t have the wealth of customization options that other reports due, but you can view it by date, account, customer, and class.

A/R Aging Detail

QuickBooks’ report templates offer generous customization options.

Which customers still owe you money from 2017? How much? How far past the due date are they? This is a report you should be running frequently throughout the year. Right now, though, you want to clean up all of the open invoices from 2017. A/R Aging Detail will show you who is current and who is 31-60, 61-90, and 91+ days old. You might consider sending Statements to those customers who are way past due.

A/P Aging Detail
Are you current on all of your bills? If so, this report will tell you so. If some bills slipped through the cracks in December, contact your vendors to let them know you’re on it.

Sales by Item Detail
January is a good time to take a good look at what sold and what didn’t in 2017 before you start placing orders for 2018. We hope you’re watching this closely throughout the year, but looking at monthly and annual totals will help you identify trends – as well as winners and losers.

QuickBooks offers some reports in the Company & Financial and Accountant & Taxes categories that you can create, but which really require expert analysis. These include Balance Sheet, Trial Balance, and Statement of Cash Flows. You need the insight they can offer on at least a quarterly basis, if not monthly. Connect with us, and we can set-up a schedule to look at these reports. If you have any QuickBooks questions, or would like any assistance, please contact us.

Important Facts to Know About IRAs

The individual retirement account (IRA) is one of the favored ways to save money for retirement. There are two types of IRAs: the traditional IRA and the Roth IRA. The annual maximum that an individual can be contributing between the two types of IRAs is $5,500, unless the individual is 50 years of age or older, and then the maximum is increased to $6,500. The basic contribution amount is inflation adjusted annually and the amount quoted is for 2017, while the additional amount for those 50 and older is fixed at $1,000. Contributions to an IRA may or may not be tax deductible depending on the type of IRA and, in some cases, the amount of the taxpayer’s income for the contribution year and whether the taxpayer participates in an employer’s retirement plan.

Compensation – In order to contribute to either type of IRA, the taxpayer must have compensation equal to the amount of the contribution. Compensation includes wages, tips, bonuses, professional fees, commissions and net income from self-employment. Alimony recipients may treat alimony as compensation for purposes of making IRA contributions. Also, members of the military receiving excludable combat pay may count the excluded amount as compensation for IRA purposes.

Active Participation in Another Retirement Plan – When an individual is an active participant in another retirement plan, such as an employer qualified pension, profit sharing or stock bonus plan, a qualified annuity, tax-sheltered annuity, government plan or simplified employee pension plan (SEP), the deductible IRA contribution is phased out for higher-income taxpayers. For 2017, the adjusted gross income (AGI) phaseout ranges are illustrated below.

Filing Status
Single and
Head of Household
Married Joint and
Surviving Spouse
Married Filing Separate
Phaseout Range
$62,000 to $72,000
$99,000 to $119,000
$0 to $10,000

There is a special rule for those who are married and filing jointly when one spouse is not an active participant in another retirement plan. That spouse’s phase-out range is increased to AGIs between $186,000 and $196,000.

Example: Sally, age 45 and single, is employed and her only income for 2017 is W-2 wages in the amount of $67,000. She is also an active participant in her employer’s 401(k) plan. She has no adjustments to her income, so her AGI for the year is also $67,000. Since she participates in her employer’s pension plan her IRA contribution is subject to the phaseout limitations. Her AGI is halfway through the phaseout range, so her deductible IRA contribution is limited to $2,750 (1/2 of $5,500). If Sally’s AGI had been $72,000 or more, she would not be able to make a deductible IRA contribution.

These phaseout limitations only apply to the deductible amount of a traditional IRA contribution. An individual can still contribute the full amount, limited by his or her compensation, but the excess amount is treated as a nondeductible contribution to the traditional IRA and establishes a basis. Then in the future, when an IRA distribution is taken, a prorated amount of the distribution will be nontaxable.

Nondeductible Contributions – In addition to making nondeductible contributions that are ineligible for IRA deductions due to active participation and income limits, an individual can also elect to treat otherwise deductible contributions as nondeductible. However, before making nondeductible IRA contributions, an individual should first consider a Roth IRA, discussed below, as an alternative.

Spousal IRA – An often-overlooked opportunity for maximizing IRA contributions is what is referred to as a “spousal IRA.” This allows a spouse with no or very little earned income to contribute to his or her IRA as long as the other spouse has sufficient earned income to cover them both.

Example: Tony is employed and his W-2 for 2017 is $100,000. His wife, Rosa, age 45, has a small income from a part-time job totaling $900. Since her own compensation is less than the contribution limits for the year, she can base her contribution on their combined compensation of $100,900. Thus, Rosa can contribute up to $5,500 to an IRA for 2017. Without this special rule, Rosa’s contribution would be limited to $900, the amount of her own compensation.

Roth IRA – An alternative to a traditional IRA is the Roth IRA. Whereas traditional IRAs provide a tax-deductible contribution and tax-deferred accumulation, Roth IRAs provide no tax deduction but have tax-free accumulation. Thus, when retirement distributions are taken from a Roth IRA, they are tax-free. On the other hand, those taken from a traditional IRA are fully taxable except for the non-deductible contributions discussed above.

However, contributions to Roth IRAs are never tax-deductible and the allowable contribution is phased out for higher income taxpayers, regardless of whether they actively participate in an employer’s retirement plan. For 2017, the adjusted gross income (AGI) phaseout ranges for Roth IRA contributions are illustrated below.

Filing Status
Single and
Head of Household
Married Joint
Married Filing Separate
Phaseout Range
$118,000 to $133,000
$186,000 to $196,000
$0 to $10,000

Example: Rosa, in the previous example, can designate her IRA contribution to be either a deductible traditional IRA or a nondeductible Roth IRA because the couple’s AGI is under $186,000. Had the couple’s AGI been $191,000, Rosa’s allowable contribution to a deductible traditional or Roth IRA would have been limited to $2,750 because of the phaseout. The other $2,750 could have been contributed to a nondeductible traditional IRA.

Back-Door Roth IRAs – Those individuals whose incomes are too high to qualify for a Roth IRA contribution can make a traditional IRA contribution and then convert the contribution to a Roth IRA using an IRA conversion process, discussed later in this article, available to all taxpayers of any income level.

Contribution Timing – Because income (AGI) limitations apply to IRAs, contributions can be made after the close of the year, giving taxpayers time to accurately determine their AGIs for the year and the correct amount of their IRA contributions. The contribution must be made no later than the unextended due date for filing a return, which is April 15. However, if the due date falls on a weekend or holiday, the due date is extended to the next business day. So, 2017 contributions must be made by April 17, 2018.

Penalties – There is a 6% penalty on amounts contributed to an IRA in excess of the allowable contribution amount. This penalty continues to apply annually until the excess is corrected. There is also a 10% early distribution penalty on the taxable amount withdrawn from an IRA before reaching age 59½. However, some or all of the 10% penalty is waived under certain circumstances, such as for first-time homebuyers, to pay for higher education expenses, to pay for medical insurance by some unemployed individuals or when a taxpayer becomes disabled. For those wishing to retire early, the penalty can also be waived if distributions are a series of substantially equal payments over the taxpayer’s life and continue until the taxpayer reaches age 59½ or for a minimum of five years, whichever is later.

Rollovers – From time to time a taxpayer may need to take funds from the IRA. If they are returned within 60 days, the distribution is not taxable and the 10% early withdrawal penalty will not apply. However, this is only allowed once in any 12-month period. This restriction does not apply to direct trustee-to-trustee transfers when the IRA owner is switching trustees or investments. CAUTION: All IRA accounts are considered one, so this rule applies collectively to all IRA accounts, meaning that an individual cannot make an IRA-to-IRA rollover if he or she has made such a rollover involving any of his or her IRAs in the preceding 12-month period.

Conversions – To take advantage of the tax-free benefits of a Roth IRA, an IRA owner can convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA any time, but taxes must be paid on the amount of the taxable traditional IRA funds converted to a Roth IRA. Timing is key when making a conversion, because one would want to do that in a low-income year or make a series of conversions so as to spread the income over a number of years. If contemplating a conversion, it should be accomplished as early in life as possible to provide a longer period of tax-free accumulation.

If an IRA conversion is made and then the IRA owner later regrets making the conversion, the Roth IRA can be recharacterized as a traditional IRA up to the extended due date of the return, which for a 2017 return would be October 15, 2018. Typical reasons for recharacterizing include not being able to pay the tax on the conversion or if the IRA has dropped in value after the conversion. Starting in 2018, this will no longer be permitted.

Retirement Distributions – For both traditional and Roth IRAs, distributions can begin once a taxpayer reaches age 59½ without penalty. For traditional IRA owners, once they reach age 70½ they must begin taking what is referred to as a minimum required distribution (RMD) each year. The minimum amount is based upon current age and the value of the IRA account. Roth IRAs are not subject to the RMD requirement. Failing to take a distribution of the required minimum amount may result in a 50% penalty of the amount that should have been withdrawn but wasn’t. However, the IRS will waive the penalty under certain conditions. TIP: In any post-retirement year when your income is below the taxable threshold, you have an opportunity to withdraw from the IRA tax-free. You should consider doing so even if you don’t need the income. You can put it away in a savings account until you do need it.

As you can see, the rules regarding IRAs are complex, and this article has only covered the most commonly encountered ones. Please give us a call if you would like to discuss how IRAs would apply to your particular circumstances or if you are in need of assistance planning for your retirement.

Sold Your Home Last Year? Thinking of Selling? Read This!

If you sold your home last year, or if you are thinking about selling it, you should be aware of the many tax-related issues that could apply to that sale so that you will be prepared at tax time and not have to deal with unpleasant surprises. This article covers home sales and the home-sale gain exclusion, particularly when that gain exclusion applies and what portion of it applies. Certain special issues always affect home sales, such as the use of a portion of the home as an office or daycare center, previous use of the property as a rental, and acquisition in a tax-deferred exchange. Other frequently encountered issues are related to the “2 years out of 5” rules for ownership and use, as these rules must be followed to qualify for gain exclusion.

Home Sale Exclusion – Generally, the tax code allows for the exclusion of up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples) of gain from the sale of a primary residence if you lived in it and owned it for at least 2 of the 5 years immediately preceding the sale. You also cannot have previously taken a home-sale exclusion within the 2 years immediately preceding the sale. There is no limit on the number of times you can use the exclusion as long as you meet these time requirements. However, extenuating circumstances can reduce the amount of the exclusion. The home-sale exclusion only applies to a primary residence, not to a second home or a rental property.

2 out of 5 Rule – To qualify for the home-sale gain exclusion, you must have used and owned the home for 2 out the 5 years immediately preceding the sale. If you are married, both you and your spouse must meet the use requirement, but only one of you needs to meet the ownership requirement. Vacations, short absences and short rental periods do not reduce the use period. When only one spouse in a married couple qualifies, the maximum exclusion is limited to $250,000 instead of $500,000. Although this situation is quite rare, if you acquired the home as part of a tax-deferred exchange (sometimes referred to as a 1031 exchange), then you must have owned the home for a minimum of 5 years before the home-gain exclusion can apply.

Some provisions allow you to reduce your gain by a prorated amount if you were required to sell the home because of extenuating circumstances such as a job-related move, a health crisis or other unforeseen events. Another rule extends the 5-year period to account for the deployment of military members and certain other government employees. Please call this office if you have not met the “2 out of 5” rule to see if you qualify for a reduced exclusion.

Business Use of the Home – If you used your home for business—for instance, by claiming a tax deduction for a home office, storing inventory in the home or using it as a daycare center—that deduction probably included an amount to account for the home’s depreciation. In that case, up to the extent of the gain, the claimed depreciation cannot be excluded.

Figuring Gain or Loss from a Sale – The first step is to determine how much the home cost, combining purchase price and the cost of improvements. From this total cost, subtract any claimed casualty losses and any depreciation taken on the home. The result is your tax basis. Next, subtract the sale expenses and this tax basis from the sale price. The result is your net gain or loss on the sale of the home.

If the result is negative, the sale is a loss. However, losses on personal-use property such as homes cannot be claimed for tax purposes.

If the result is a gain, however, subtract any home-gain exclusion (discussed above) up to the extent of the gain. This is your taxable gain, which is, unfortunately, subject to income tax and possibly to the net-investment income tax as well. If you owned the home for at least a year and a day, the gain will a be a long-term capital gain; as such, it will be taxed at the special capital-gains rates, which range from zero for low-income taxpayers to 20% for high-income taxpayers. Depending on the amount of your income, the gain may also be subject to the 3.8% net investment income surtax that was added as part of the Affordable Care Act. The tax computation can be rather complicated, so please call us for assistance.

Another issue that can affect your home’s tax basis (discussed above) applies if you owned your home before May 7, 1997 and purchased it after selling another home. Prior to that date, instead of a home-gain exclusion, any gain from a sale was deferred to the replacement home. Although this is now rare, if it matches your situation, the deferred gain would reduce your current home’s tax basis and add to any gain.

Another Twist – If you previously used your home as a rental property, the law includes a provision that prevents you from excluding any gain attributable to the home’s appreciation while it was a rental. The law’s effective date was the beginning of 2009, which means that you only need to account for rental appreciation starting in that year. This law was passed to prevent landlords moving into their rentals for 2 years so that they could exclude the gains from those properties. Some landlords did this repeatedly.

Records – Assets that are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, including your home, need your attention, particularly regarding records. When figuring your gain or loss, you will, at a minimum, need the escrow statement from the purchase, a list of improvements (not maintenance work) with receipts, and the final escrow statement from the sale. When you encounter any of the issues discussed in this article, you may need additional documentation.

A few other rare home-sale rules are not included here. As you can see, home-sale computations and tax reporting can be very complicated, so please call us if you need assistance.

Driving For Uber Or Others? Your Tax Situation Is Unique

With tax time approaching, if you drive for Uber, Lyft or a competitor, here is some tax information related to reporting your income. You are considered self-employed and will report your income and deductible expenses on IRS Schedule C to arrive at your taxable income for income tax and self-employment tax.

Your driving income will be reported on IRS information Form 1099-K, which reflects the entire amount for your fares charged on credit cards through the Uber reporting system. So if the 1099-K includes the total charges, then it also includes the Uber fee and credit card fees, both of which are deductible by you on your Schedule C. To determine the amount of those fees, you must first add up all the direct deposits made by Uber to your bank account. Then subtract the total deposits from the amount on the 1099-K; the result will be the total of the Uber fees and credit card processing fees. If you drive for multiple services, you will have multiple 1099-Ks and deposits from multiple services. It is highly recommended that you keep copies of your bank statements for the year so you can verify deposits in case of an IRS audit.

You will also need to include in your income any cash tips you received that were not charged through Uber. You should keep a notebook in your vehicle where you can record your cash tips. Having a contemporaneously maintained tip logbook is important in case of an audit.

Your largest deduction on your Schedule C will be your vehicle expenses. The first step in determining the deduction for the business use of a vehicle is to determine the total miles the vehicle was driven, and then, of the total miles, the number of deductible business miles and non-deductible personal miles. Recording the vehicle’s odometer reading at the beginning of the year and again at year-end will give you the information needed to figure total miles driven during the year. Although the Uber reporting system provides you with the total fare miles, it does not include miles between fares, which are also deductible. Thus it is important that you maintain a daily log of the miles driven from the beginning of your driving shift to the end of the shift. The total of the shift miles driven will be your business miles for the year. If you know the business miles driven and total miles driven, you can determine the percentage of vehicle use for business, which is used to determine what portion of the vehicle expenses are deductible.

You may use the actual expense method or an optional mileage method to determine your deduction for the use of the vehicle. If you choose the actual expense method in the first year you use the vehicle for business, you cannot switch to the optional mileage method in a later year. On the other hand, if you choose the optional mileage rate in the first year, you are allowed to switch between methods in future years, but your write-off for vehicle depreciation is limited to the straight line method rather than an accelerated method. For 2017, the optional mileage rate is 53.5 cents per mile. The IRS generally only adjusts the rate annually. If using the optional mileage rate, you need not track the actual vehicle expenses (but you still need to track the mileage).

The actual expense method includes deducting the business cost of gas, oil, lubrication, maintenance and repairs, vehicle registration fees, insurance, interest on the loan used to purchase the vehicle, state and local property taxes, and depreciation (or lease payments if the vehicle is leased). The business cost is the total of all these items multiplied by the business use percentage. Since the vehicle is being used to transport persons for hire, it is not subject to rules that generally limit depreciation of business autos, allowing for substantial vehicle write-off in the first year where appropriate. However, if you converted a vehicle that was previously used only personally, the depreciation will be based upon the lower of cost or current fair market value, and no bonus depreciation will allowed unless the conversion year was the same year as the purchase year.

Other deductions would include cell phone service, liability insurance and perks for your fares, such as bottled water and snacks. Depending on your circumstances, you may qualify for a business use of the home (home office) deduction. However, to qualify, the home office must be used exclusively in a taxpayer’s trade or business on a regular, continuing basis. A taxpayer must be able to provide sufficient evidence to show that the use is regular. Exclusive use means there can be no personal use (other than de minimis) at any time during the tax year. The office must also be the driver’s principal place of business.

Uber provides its drivers with detailed accounting information, and the only significant additional record keeping required is the miles traveled between fares, which is accomplished while in the vehicle. So justifying a home office is problematic. Even a portion of the garage where the vehicle is parked could qualify, but the use must be exclusive, which means the vehicle must be used 100% for business.

As a self-employed individual, you also have the ability to contribute to a deductible self-employed retirement plan or an IRA. Also, being self-employed gives you the option to deduct your health insurance without itemizing your deductions. However, these tax benefits may be limited or not allowed if you are also employed and participate in your employer’s retirement plan or if your employer pays for 50% or more of your health insurance coverage.

If you have additional questions about reporting your income and expenses, or the vehicle deduction options, please give us a call.

Five Steps You Need to Take After Jumping Into Entrepreneurship

Congratulations! You’ve decided to dive into the exciting world of entrepreneurship and bring that great business idea to life. Whether you’re opening a local brick-and-mortar business that your community needs, looking to grow rapidly in the next few years and get an investor, or just keep things small and solo, certain steps come next that aren’t as exciting as preparing for launch, but need to be done.

Here are the five important steps to take after you’ve decided it’s time to go from idea to delivery.

1. Choose the Right Business Entity.
How you organize your business plays a major role in taxes, bookkeeping, current and potential ownership, and overall administrative burden. While all of these considerations would need to be made regardless of the current state of the tax code, it’s especially important to think about in the face of massive tax overhaul. The GOP tax reform bill has become law and many changes go into effect starting January 1, 2018.

Some owners of pass-through businesses can expect to get a bonus deduction of up to 20 percent of profits up to $157,500 for most filing statuses and $319,000 for married filing jointly. Ninety-five percent of U.S. businesses are pass-through entities, which is a sole proprietorship, partnership, S corporation, or limited liability company (LLC) using the same tax structure as one of these entities, with the maximum income tax being 29.6 percent for pass-through income. For C corporations, the maximum corporate income tax rate is dropping from 35 percent to 21 percent.

Taxes aside, each state also treats business entities differently and may present bonuses and disadvantages you weren’t aware of. For example, many small business owners reap numerous benefits from S corporations but if you’re a New York City resident, you still have to pay city income tax. New York State recognizes S status but New York City doesn’t. Sales tax nexus, risk management, and legal aspects are other considerations to make when choosing an entity.

Depending on your entrepreneurial goals as well as personal needs, you need to decide which entity makes the most sense for your operations. If you plan to change entities in the near future due to taking on a partner or investor, you should also factor in how the tax bill will affect you.

2. Register your business with the appropriate state, local, and federal agencies.
When you organize your business, you may automatically be registered into your state or local agency’s database after filing articles of incorporation or similar documents. Check with your local Division of Corporations or other authority to make sure that you’ve taken all necessary steps to register your business once you’ve decided which entity to go with.

If you’re forming an LLC, you may need to file additional paperwork such as a publication affidavit which is when the state requires you to announce your commencement in a newspaper. This can be inexpensive or present a major cost barrier. For any “DBA” claims where you’re not doing business under your actual name or business entity name, you also need to check with your county clerk regarding forms and filing fees.

For federal agencies, most of the registration has to do with hiring employees, but even if you don’t plan on hiring any in the near future or ever, you still need to get an Employer Identification Number from the IRS. If you need to obtain licenses or approvals before operations commence, you also need to prioritize contacting these agencies and getting your paperwork taken care of before working with your first client.

3. Find business advisers, mentors, and peers.
You want to work with business advisers who can teach you about not just business in general, but also about the specific type of business that you’re operating and your industry. A good business adviser is one that will tell you both what you’re excelling at and what really needs improvement and how to achieve your business goals.

You want to find an adviser who’s on the same wavelength as you, but who can also give you the benefit of their knowledge and experience for your particular industry. In seeking out mentors and professional peers, you’ll want to find spaces for your profession or business type online and in person to exchange ideas and learn from each other. They’re excellent ways to grow your business while learning the ropes and you’ll learn the dos and don’ts of pre-launch.

4. Pick the right accounting software.
Even if you plan on outsourcing your accounting and tax responsibilities to a competent professional, you still need to have an accounting solution in place for them to work with. Jotting your expenses down on an Excel sheet can be a placeholder when you don’t have that many transactions yet and haven’t formally set up an entity in the very beginning, but it’s not going to be a viable long-term solution.

Accounting software isn’t as cost-prohibitive as it once was and there are many different products on the market meant for small business owners, solopreneurs, people who travel frequently, and even programs and apps that work in the cloud designed specially for certain industries and types of businesses. Cloud accounting programs are perfect for busy people who use multiple devices, so your accounting professional can see transactions in real time and correctly adjust them as you go.

If your business has more robust accounting needs such as inventory tracking and payroll, you need to test out the program and see if it works well for you. For most people without accounting knowledge, figuring out how to get accounting software set up can be daunting, so you also want to see if your tax professional can help you with this or if there are training videos and courses for your software.

5. Get ready to launch!
Once you’ve taken care of these crucial items pre-launch, it’s time to get going! You can now focus your time and energy on building a great product, finding the best staff, and cultivating a following for your brand. It’s just part of the game when you own a business.

While your business entity and accounting needs might not be as exciting as putting together your website and initial marketing blasts, it’s extremely important to have them sorted out beforehand so you aren’t scrambling to get tax paperwork in order right when things are really taking off for you. By establishing your entity, business registration, publication affidavits, and other business-related paperwork beforehand with the help of a business adviser, you’ll also have peace of mind that these things were done right the first time and you won’t need to stop what you’re doing to keep mailing in forms.

The journey to a successful business is definitely not an easy one. But if you’ve got a pre-launch roadmap and the right professionals on your side, you’ll minimize your chances of dealing with irksome bureaucratic obstacles so you can focus on growing your business. If you have any questions about jumping into entrepreneurship, and the important steps to take afterward, please contact us.

Using Online Agents to Rent Your Home Short Term? You May Be Surprised at the Tax Ramifications

If you are among the many taxpayers renting your first or second home using rental agents or online rental services that match property owners with prospective renters, such as Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway, then you should know the IRS has special rules related to short-term rentals.

When property is rented for short periods, special (and sometimes complex) taxation rules come into play, which can make the rents excludable from taxation; other situations may force the rental income and expenses to be reported on Schedule C (as opposed to Schedule E).

If you have been renting your home or second home for short periods of time, here is a synopsis of the rules governing short-term rentals so you can prepare yourself for the upcoming tax season.

  • Rented for Fewer Than 15 Days During the Year: If you rent your property for fewer than 15 days during the tax year, the rental income is not reportable, and the expenses associated with that rental are not deductible. However, interest and property taxes are still deductible as itemized deductions on your Schedule A.
  • Rented for an Average of 7 Days or Less: Under normal circumstances, rentals are treated as passive activities, which are reported on a Schedule E, and net profit from the rental activity is not subject to self-employment tax. But the special rules treat short-term rentals averaging 7 days or less as a trade or business similar to that of a hotel or motel, with the income and expenses reported on Schedule C, and the profits are subject to both income tax and self-employment tax.
  • Rented for an Average of 8 to 30 Days: Even rentals for longer than 7 days are treated as a trade or business when substantial personal services are provided to the short-term tenant. Substantial services are those that are primarily for your tenant’s convenience, such as regular cleaning, changing linen, or maid service. Substantial services do not include the furnishing of heat and light, the cleaning of public areas, trash collection, and such.
    When extraordinary services are provided, the rental is treated as a trade or business and reported on Schedule C regardless of the average rental period. However, it would be extremely rare for this to apply to short-term rentals of your home or second home.
  • Exception to the Significant Services Rule – If the personal services provided are similar to those that generally are provided in connection with long-term rentals of high-grade commercial or residential real property (such as the cleaning of public areas and trash collection), and if the rental also includes maid and linen services at a cost of less than 10% of the rental fee, then the personal services are neither significant nor extraordinary for the purposes of the 30-day rule.

A loss from this type of activity, even when reported on your Schedule C as a trade or business, is still treated as a passive activity loss and can only be deducted against passive income. The $25,000 loss allowance that applies to some Schedule E rentals is not available for rental activities reportable on Schedule C.

It is important that you keep a record of not only the rental income from each tenant but also the duration of each rental, so the average rental term for the year can be determined. If you have questions about your rental activities, please give us a call.