Rejoice — Business Meals Are Still Deductible

f you are a business owner who is accustomed to treating clients to sporting events, golf getaways, concerts and the like, you were no doubt saddened by part of the tax reform that passed last December. A part of the tax reform did away with the business-related deductions for entertainment, amusement or recreation expenses, beginning in 2018. You can still entertain your clients; you just can’t deduct the costs of doing so as a business expense.

While the ban on deducting business entertainment was quite clear in the revised law, a lingering question among tax experts has been whether the tax reform’s definition of entertainment also applied to business meals, such as when you take a customer or business contact to lunch. Some were saying yes, and others no. Either way, both sides recommended keeping the required receipts and documentation until the issue was clarified.

The IRS recently issued some very business-friendly guidance, pending the release of more detailed regulations. In a notice, the IRS has announced that taxpayers generally may continue to deduct 50 percent of the food and beverage expenses associated with operating their trade or business, including business meals, provided:

  1. The expense is an ordinary and necessary expense paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying out any trade or business;
  2. The expense is not lavish or extravagant under the circumstances;
  3. The taxpayer, or an employee of the taxpayer, is present at the furnishing of the food or beverages;
  4. The food and beverages are provided to a current or potential business customer, client, consultant or similar business contact; and
  5. Food and beverages provided during or at an entertainment activity are purchased separately from the entertainment, or the cost of the food and beverages is stated separately from the cost of the entertainment on one or more bills, invoices or receipts.

The IRS notice also included the following interesting examples related to #5: The taxpayer invites a business contact to a baseball game. The tickets to the game are entertainment and not deductible. However, the taxpayer also purchased hot dogs and a beverage for himself and the business contact. Because the food and drinks were purchased separately, they are not disallowed as entertainment and are deductible if they otherwise qualify as an ordinary and necessary business expense. Had the ticket price included the hot dogs and beverages, they would be treated as non-deductible entertainment. If the ticket price separately stated the ticket price and the food and beverage price, then the food and beverage portion would not be disallowed as entertainment.

Of course, the substantiation requirements still apply. You must be able to establish the amount spent, the time and place, the business purpose and the business relationship and names of the individuals involved. You should keep a diary, an account book, digital files or similar records with this information and record the details within a short time of incurring the expenses. If the meal expense is $75 or more, documentary proof (receipts, etc.) is also required.

If you are an employee, starting in tax year 2018, you will not be able to deduct your unreimbursed employee business expenses, including the cost of client meals. These expenses have been deductible as miscellaneous itemized deductions when you itemized deductions and when your total deductions in that category exceeded 2% of your adjusted gross income. Under the tax reform, this category of deductions is not deductible for years 2018 through 2025. So, unfortunately, the IRS’s expansive definition of meal expenses will not benefit you.

If you have questions related to business meals, substantiation, or the ban on entertainment expenses, please give us a call.

Surrogacy Fees and Taxes

Articles about the taxability and deductibility of surrogacy fees are rare because there are far fewer surrogacies than conventional births. Surrogacy is a legal arrangement in which a surrogate mother, new parents and (often) a surrogacy agency enter into a binding contract. In the event of a breach of that contract, any party can be held to the terms of the agreement.

Tax Treatment for the Surrogate
The Internet contains a wide variety of opinions related to the taxability of the surrogacy fee to the surrogate mother. Some authors classify this fee as a gift; however, a U.S. Supreme Court decision (Commissioner vs. LoBue, Philip (1956, S Ct)) stated that, for tax purposes, gifts must be made out of detached or disinterested generosity. Any payment that parents make to a surrogate mother cannot reasonably be considered detached or disinterested, so surrogate fees are not gifts.

On the other hand, many surrogacy agencies advise their clients that surrogacy payments are for pain and suffering and thus are exempt under Sec 104 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). This section is about “compensation for injury or sickness”; however, the term “pain and suffering” does not appear anywhere in that section. Surrogacy does not meet the definition of an excludable physical injury under IRC Sec 104 such as an injury associated with a car accident, bungled surgery or other accident. Thus surrogacy fees do not fall under the compensation exclusion for injury or sickness.

IRC Sec 61 states, “Except as otherwise provided, gross income means all income from whatever source derived.” There is no exception in the code for surrogacy fees, so such fees are considered taxable income for the surrogate mother. To complicate matters, the surrogate mother is providing a personal service and thus may be subject to the self-employment (Social Security and Medicare) taxes in addition to income tax if such a fee is received in the course of business.

To be subject to Social Security taxes, the surrogacy arrangement would have to rise to the level of a trade or business. The determination of whether that is the case is dependent on the facts and circumstances of the individual surrogacy. For instance, if a surrogate has entered into such an arrangement previously or intends to do so again, the fee will likely be considered self-employment income. However, if the surrogacy is a one-time activity, an argument could be made that this act is not a business—in which case the surrogacy fee would not be subject to Social Security taxes.

If the fee is considered self-employment income, it may be offset with benefits that are available to any self-employed taxpayer, including the ability to deduct health insurance above the line rather than as an itemized deduction and the ability to make deductible contributions to a self-employed retirement plan or IRA. Although there are not many deductible business expenses in such a situation, the legal or other costs associated with drafting and executing the surrogacy contract are deductible.

A self-employment surrogacy activity would fall into the category of a specified service business for the purposes of the new, self-employed and pass-through business deduction that will be available in 2018 through 2025. Thus, provided that the surrogate mother’s return has taxable income that does not exceed $157,500 (or $315,000 if she is married and files a joint return with her spouse), she would be eligible for the new IRC Sec 199A pass-through deduction, which is equal to 20% of the net self-employment income. However, this deduction phases out at taxable incomes between $157,500 and $207,500 (or $315,000 and $415,000 if filing jointly). The income from self-employment surrogacy can be used to determine the earned income tax credit if a surrogate mother is otherwise qualified.

Unfortunately, tax novices on the Internet are creating their own interpretations of the tax code, and many of them are attempting to justify their preferences instead of instead of describing the actual rules.

As a result, many – dare we say, most – surrogate mothers are not reporting their surrogacy income. The IRS is not catching up with them because neither the parents nor the agencies are issuing 1099-MISC forms to surrogate mothers. The parents are under no obligation to issue a 1099-MISC because, for them, the payment is not related to a business. The agency, on the other hand, is a business, so if the surrogacy fee passes through it, the agency is obligated to issue a 1099-MISC.

Tax Treatment for the Parents
Surrogate mothers’ expenses are not specifically addressed in the IRC or in other regulations. Under current tax law, the only place that a surrogate fee could be deducted is as a medical expense. However, consider the following:

  • Medical deductions are allowed only for the medical care of the taxpayer and his or her spouse and dependents (IRC Sec 213(a)).
  • These expenses must be for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or for the purpose of affecting any structure or function of the body (IRC Sec 213(a)(1)(A)).

A surrogate mother is, by definition, neither the taxpayer nor the taxpayer’s spouse, and she is typically not a dependent, either. An unborn child is also not a dependent (Cassman v. United States, 31 Fed. Cl. 121 (1994)). Thus, medical expenses paid to a surrogate mother and her unborn child do not qualify for a medical deduction.

This fee also cannot be construed as a treatment for a female taxpayer’s inability to conceive.

Thus, the new parents cannot deduct the surrogacy fee or any agency fees, legal fees, and medical expenses for the surrogate mother and unborn fetus.

Please call us if you have questions about surrogacy fees and taxes.

Disabled Taxpayer Tax Benefits

Taxpayers with disabilities may qualify for a number of tax credits and other tax benefits. Parents of children with disabilities may also qualify. Listed below are several tax credits and other benefits that are available if you or someone else listed on your federal tax return is disabled.

Increased Standard Deduction – Tax reform substantially increased the standard deduction for 2018 to $12,000 for single filers, $18,000 for those filing as head of household and $24,000 for married filing joint returns. Tax reform also retained the standard deduction add-on for taxpayers who are legally blind. Thus, if a taxpayer is filing jointly with a blind spouse, they are able to add an additional $1,300 to their standard deduction; if both spouses are blind, the add-on doubles to $2,600. For other filing statuses, the additional amount is $1,600. While being age 65 or older isn’t a disability, it should be noted that the “elderly” add-on of $1,300 or $1,600, depending on filing status, has also been retained. These add-ons apply only to the taxpayer and spouse, and not to any dependents.

  1. Exclusions from Gross Income – Certain disability-related payments, Veterans Administration disability benefits, and Supplemental Security Income are excluded from gross income (i.e., they are not taxable). Amounts received for Social Security disability are treated the same as regular Social Security benefits, which means that up to 85% of the benefits could be taxable, depending on the amount of the recipient’s (and spouse’s, if filing jointly) other income.

    Impairment-Related Work Expenses – Individuals who have a physical or mental disability may deduct impairment-related expenses paid to allow them to work.

    Employee – Although the tax reform eliminated most miscellaneous itemized deductions, it retained the deduction for employees who have a physical or mental disability limiting their employment. As a result, they can still deduct, as an itemized deduction, the expenses that are necessary for them to work.

    Self-employed – For those who are self-employed, impairment-related expenses are deductible on Schedule C or F.

    Impairment-related work expenses are ordinary and necessary business expenses for attendant care services at the individual’s place of work as well as other expenses in at the place of work that are necessary for the individual to be able to work. An example is when a blind taxpayer pays someone to read work-related documents to the taxpayer.

  2. Financially Disabled – Under normal circumstances, one must file a claim for a tax refund within 3 years of the unextended due date of the tax return. For example, for a 2015 tax return, the due date was April 15, 2016, which is the date when the 3-year clock started running. Thus, the IRS will not issue refunds for an amended 2015 or a late-filed original 2015 return submitted to the IRS after April 15, 2019. However, if a taxpayer is “financially disabled,” the time periods for claiming a refund are suspended for the period during which the individual is financially disabled.

    An individual is financially disabled if they are unable to manage their financial affairs because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.

    For a joint income tax return, only one spouse has to be financially disabled for the time period to be suspended. However, financial disability does not apply during any period when the individual’s spouse or any other person is authorized to act on the individual’s behalf in financial matters.

  3. Earned Income Tax Credit – The EITC is available to disabled taxpayers and to the parents of a child with a disability. To be eligible for the credit, the taxpayer must receive earned income, which generally is wages or self-employment income. However, if an individual retired on disability, taxable benefits that were received under their employer’s disability retirement plan are considered earned income until the individual reaches a minimum retirement age. If the disability benefits being received are nontaxable, as would be the case if the disabled individual paid the premiums for the disability insurance policy from which the benefits come, then the benefits are not considered earned income. The EITC is a tax credit that not only reduces a taxpayer’s tax liability but may also result in a refund. Many working individuals with a disability who have no qualifying children but are older than 24 and younger than 65 may qualify for the EITC. Additionally, if the taxpayer’s child is disabled, the qualifying child’s age limitation for the EITC is waived. The EITC has no effect on certain public benefits. Any refund that is received because of the EITC will not be considered income when determining whether a taxpayer is eligible for benefit programs such as Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid.
  4. Child or Dependent Care Credit – Taxpayers who pay someone to come to their home and care for their dependent or disabled spouse may be entitled to claim this credit. For children, this credit is usually limited to the care expenses paid only until age 13, but there is no age limit if the child is unable to care for himself or herself.

    Special Medical Deductions When Claiming Itemized Deductions – In addition to conventional medical deductions, the tax code provides special medical deductions related to disabled taxpayers and dependents. They include:

    Impairment-Related Expenses – Amounts paid for special equipment installed in the home, or for improvements, may be included as medical expenses deductible as part of itemized deductions, if their main purpose is medical care for the taxpayer, the spouse, or a dependent. The cost of permanent improvements that increase the value of the property may only be partly included as a medical expense.

    Learning Disability – Tuition paid to a special school for a child who has severe learning disabilities caused by mental or physical impairments, including nervous system disorders, can be included as medical expenses eligible for the medical deduction when itemizing deductions. A doctor must recommend that the child attend the school. Fees for the child’s tutoring recommended by a doctor and given by a teacher who is specially trained and qualified to work with children who have severe learning disabilities might also be included.

    Drug Addiction – Amounts paid by a taxpayer to maintain a dependent in a therapeutic center for drug addicts, including the cost of the dependent’s meals and lodging, are included as medical expenses for itemized deduction purposes.

  5. Exclusion of Qualified Medicaid Waiver Payments – Payments made to care providers caring for related individuals in the provider’s home are excluded from the care provider’s income. Qualified foster care payments are amounts paid under the foster care program of a state (or political subdivision of a state or a qualified foster care placement agency). For more information, please call.
  6. ABLE Accounts – Qualified ABLE programs provide the means for individuals and families to contribute and save for the purpose of supporting individuals with disabilities in maintaining their health, independence, and quality of life.

    Federal law authorizes the states to establish and operate an ABLE program. Under these ABLE programs, an ABLE account may be set up for any eligible state resident – someone who became severely disabled before turning age 26 – who would generally be the only person who could take distributions from the account. ABLE accounts are very similar in function to Sec. 529 plans. The main purpose of ABLE accounts is to shelter assets from the means testing required by government benefit programs. Individuals can contribute to ABLE accounts, subject to per-account gift tax limitations (maximum $15,000 for 2018). The 2017 tax reform added a provision allowing working individuals who are beneficiaries of ABLE accounts to contribute limited additional amounts to their ABLE accounts, beginning in 2018. Distributions to the disabled individual are tax-free if the funds are used for qualified expenses of the disabled individual. These accounts are established at the state level.

For more information on these benefits available to disabled taxpayers or dependents, please give us a call.

Do You Own a Specified Service Trade or Business? If So, Your 20% Pass-Through Tax Deduction May Be Limited

As part of its recent tax reform, Congress included a new 20% deduction of pass-through income for trades or businesses other than C-corporations. This pass-through income is referred to as qualified business income (QBI); for trades or businesses, it generally includes bottom-line profits, and for S-corporations and partnerships, it includes K-1 flow-through income. This new law was added as tax code section 199A, so the deduction is often referred to as the 199A deduction.

Congress added this deduction to benefit sole proprietors, partners, and S-corporation shareholders (among others); the goal is to allow for benefits equivalent to the substantial tax-rate cut that the same reform provided to C-corporations. However, this new deduction is not applied uniformly to all types of trades and businesses, for which there are two categories:

  • qualified trades or businesses (QTBs) and
  • specified service trades or businesses (SSTBs).

This deduction is limited by the taxpayer’s filing status and 1040 taxable income, and it differs depending on whether the business is a QTB or a SSTB. Although the main purposes of this article are to define SSTBs and to describe how they are taxed differently from QTBs, if one is to understand why an SSTB may not qualify for the deduction, whereas a QTB might qualify, it is necessary to first understand the basic differences between the deductions for SSTBs and QTBs.

Apparently, Congress considered the income from service businesses to be akin to wages and didn’t want taxpayers who provide services to have the benefit of the 20% deduction instead of paying taxes on that income as ordinary wages. This change was primarily aimed at deterring high-income people from becoming independent contractors or setting up pass-through businesses so that they could turn their wages into business income and get the 20% deduction. The result is a phase-out of the deduction for high-income taxpayers who have income from SSTBs.

The table below provides an overview of the tax treatment for each type of business. As you will note, the SSTB deduction phases out for higher levels of 1040 taxable income, but the QTB deduction does not. This type of phase-out is called a wage limitation.

Example of How to Use the Table: Two married people who are filing jointly have 1040 taxable income (before the 199A deduction) of $469,000; they also have a SSTB. They would first select the box with their filing status (“Married Filing a Joint Return”), then move to the right to the correct range of 1040 taxable income (which is the adjusted gross income after removing either the standard deduction or the itemized deductions; in this case, “Greater than $415,000”), and finally follow that column down to the cell aligned with the correct type of business (“SSTB”). In this case, the trade or business does not qualify for the 199A deduction.

Taxpayer’s Filing Status

Taxable Income
(Before the 199A deduction)

Married Filing a Joint Return
Less Than $315,000
Between $315,000 and $415,000

Greater than $415,000

Other filing Statuses
Less Than $157,500
Between $157,500 and $207,500

Greater than $207,500

Type of Business
The 199A Deduction
SSTB
20% of QBI
Deduction phased out
No deduction allowed
QTB
20% of QBI
Wage limitation phased in
Deduction equal to the lesser of 20% of QBI or the wage limitation

Specified Service Trades or Businesses (SSTBs)
The IRS describes SSTBs as being in the following fields:

  • Health – The health category includes the provision of services by physicians, pharmacists, nurses, dentists, veterinarians, physical therapists, psychologists, and similar health care professionals who provide medical services directly to patients. However, this excludes the provision of services that are not directly related to a medical field, even when those services purportedly relate to the health of the service recipient. For example, this category excludes the operation of health clubs or spas that provide physical exercise or conditioning; health-related payment processing; or the research, testing, manufacture, and/or sales of pharmaceuticals or medical devices.
  • Law – The law category refers to the provision of services by lawyers, paralegals, legal arbitrators, mediators, and similar professionals in their capacities as such. The category excludes the provision of services that do not require skills unique to the field of law, such as the printing, delivery, and stenography services provided to lawyers.
  • Accounting – The accounting category includes the provision of services by accountants, enrolled agents, tax-return preparers, financial auditors, and similar professionals in their capacities as such. This category is not limited to services that require state licensure as a certified public accountant. This category also excludes payment processing and billing analysis.
  • Actuarial Science – The actuarial science category refers to the provision of services by actuaries and similar professionals in their capacities as such. This category only includes the services provided by analysts, economists, mathematicians, and statisticians if they are engaged in analyzing or assessing financial costs due to risk or uncertainty.
  • Performing Arts – The performing arts category includes the performance of services by individuals who participate in the creation of the performing arts, including actors, singers, musicians, entertainers, directors, and similar professionals in their capacities as such. It excludes services that do not require skills that are unique to the creation of performing arts, such as the maintenance and operation of equipment or facilities. Similarly, the dissemination of video or audio of performing-arts events to the public is not considered to be a service in the performing arts.
  • Athletics – The athletics category refers to the performance of services by individuals who participate in athletic competitions, including athletes, coaches, and team managers in sports such as baseball, basketball, football, soccer, hockey, martial arts, boxing, bowling, tennis, golf, skiing, snowboarding, track and field, billiards, and racing. This category excludes the provision of services that do not require skills that are unique to athletic competition, such as the maintenance and operation of equipment or facilities for use in athletic events. It also excludes the provision of services by persons who disseminate video or audio of athletic events to the public.
  • Consulting – The consulting category refers to the provision of professional advice and counsel to clients to assist them in achieving goals and solving problems. Consulting professionals include lobbyists and similar professionals, but this category focuses on their capacities as such and excludes the minor consulting that accompanies the sale of a product. A trade or businesses cannot be an SSTP if less than 10% of its gross receipts are from consulting (or 5% if the company’s gross receipts are greater than $25 million).
  • Financial services – The category of financial services applies to services that are typically performed by financial advisors and investment bankers, including the following financial services: managing wealth; advising clients with respect to their finances; developing retirement and wealth-transition plans; providing advisory and other services regarding valuations, mergers, acquisitions, dispositions, and restructurings (including in title 11 bankruptcies and similar cases); and raising financial capital through underwriting or by acting as a client’s agent in the issuance of securities. This includes the services provided by financial advisors, investment bankers, wealth planners, retirement advisors, and similar professionals but excludes banking services such as deposit-taking or loan-making.
  • Brokerage Services – The brokerage services category includes services in which a person arranges transactions between a buyer and a seller with respect to securities and in exchange for a commission or fee. This includes services provided by stock brokers and similar professionals but excludes services provided by real estate or insurance agents and brokers.
  • Reputation or Skill – The original legislation’s list of SSTBs included trades or businesses for which the principal asset was the reputation or skill of one or more of employees or owners. However, it was unclear if this meant, for example, that a self-employed plumber who provided his skill to the business would be eligible for the 199A deduction. The taxpayer-friendly interpretation of these tax regulations has generally defined “reputation and skill” to mean:(1) The receipt of income in exchange for endorsing products or services for which the individual provides endorsement services;
    (2) The receipt of licensing income in exchange for the use of an individual’s image, likeness, name, signature, voice, trademark, or any other symbol associated with that individual’s identity; or
    (3) The receipt of appearance fees or income (including fees or income paid to reality performers who appear as themselves on television, social media, or other forums; radio, television, and other media hosts; and video game players).

The amount of pass-through deduction that is ultimately available due to an SSTB is entirely dependent upon the taxpayer’s 1040 taxable income. Thus, in some cases, pension contributions and the expensing of business assets can lower a taxpayer’s taxable income enough that he or she benefits from an increase in the pass-through deduction. In this scenario, married couples who are not living in community-property states could benefit from filing separately rather than jointly.

If you have questions related to whether your business qualifies for this new deduction, whether it is classified as an SSTB, or how SSTB income fits into your overall tax picture, please give us a call.

Tax Reform Eases the Alternative Minimum Tax – But It’s Still There

Although Congress has been promising to repeal the alternative minimum tax (AMT), they failed to do that when they passed tax reform in 2017. Instead, they lessened the effects of the AMT by increasing AMT exemptions (an amount of income exempt from AMT taxation) and raising the income thresholds for when the exemptions are phased out. These two steps and some other changes covered in this article lessen your chances of being hit by the AMT, but it is still there. It is wise to be aware of how the AMT is determined and the potential triggers.

There are two ways to determine your tax: the regular way, which most everyone is familiar with, and the alternative method. Your tax will be the higher of the two.

So, what is the alternative tax and why might you get hit with it? Well, many, many years ago, Congress, in an effort to curb tax shelters and tax preferences of wealthy taxpayers, created an alternative method for computing tax that disallows certain deductions and adds preference income and called it the AMT. Although originally intended to apply to the wealthy, years of inflation caused more than just wealthy taxpayers to be caught up in the tax.

What Triggers the AMT? The list of tax deductions and preferences not allowed when computing the AMT is substantial and, at times, complicated. However, the typical taxpayer does not encounter most of them. In the past, the seven following items routinely caused taxpayers to be hit by the AMT. As you will note, tax reform has lessened or eliminated the impact of some of these.

  1. Medical Deductions – For many years, medical deductions were allowed to the extent they exceeded 7.5% of a taxpayer’s income for regular tax purposes and 10% for the AMT computation. The 2.5% difference was one of the items that added to the AMT tax. (For 2013 through 2016, the percentage for taxpayers under age 65 was 10% for both regular tax and AMT, and they had no AMT adjustment.) For 2017 and 2018, tax reform made the medical limit 7.5% for both regular and AMT purposes. After 2018, the percentage of income that reduces medical expenses will be 10% for both regular tax and AMT. Therefore medical expenses also will not impact the AMT in 2019 and later years.
  2. Deduction for Taxes Paid – When itemizing deductions on a federal return, a taxpayer is allowed to deduct a variety of state and local taxes, including real property, personal property, and state income or sales tax. But, for AMT purposes, none of these taxes is deductible, thus creating an AMT adjustment. However, tax reform imposed a $10,000 limit on state and local tax deductions, lessening the difference in the regular tax and AMT adjustment, especially for higher income taxpayers and those living in states with high taxes. However, when combined with other triggering items, the state and local taxes deducted for regular tax can still create an AMT.
  3. Home Mortgage Interest – For both the regular tax and AMT computations, interest paid on a debt to acquire or substantially improve a main home or second home is deductible as long as the $1 million debt limit ($750,000 for loans incurred after 2017) isn’t exceeded. Prior to 2018, for regular tax purposes, the interest on up to $100,000 of equity debt on first and second homes was also deductible, creating a difference between the regular tax and AMT deduction, as equity debt interest is not allowed for AMT purposes. Additionally, interest on debt to acquire a motor home or boat that is used as a taxpayer’s home or second home is deductible for regular tax purposes but not for AMT purposes. Starting in 2018, tax reform no longer allows homeowners to deduct the interest on equity debt, which eliminates another difference between what is deductible for regular tax and the AMT and reduces the chances of being saddled with the AMT.
  4. Miscellaneous Itemized Deductions – The category of miscellaneous deductions, which includes employee business expenses and investment expenses, is not deductible for AMT purposes. For certain taxpayers with deductible employee business expenses or high investment advisor fees, this has created a significant AMT. Here again, tax reform has eliminated these same miscellaneous deductions for regular tax beginning in 2018, thus eliminating another difference between the AMT and the regular tax computation.
  5. Personal Exemptions – Through 2017, a deduction for personal exemptions was allowed for regular tax but not for the AMT, creating a difference in the computation and adding to the chance of being subject to the AMT. As of 2018, exemptions are no longer allowed for regular tax, which eliminates yet another difference.
  6. Standard Deduction – For regular tax purposes, a taxpayer can choose to itemize their deductions or use the standard deduction. However, for the AMT, only itemized deductions are allowed. Tax reform substantially increased the standard deduction used to figure regular tax, and this can increase chances of being affected by the AMT. There is a strategy that can be used to mitigate the AMT for taxpayers who would normally use the standard deduction, which is forcing itemized deductions even if they total an amount that is less than the standard deduction amount. Even the smallest of charitable deductions will benefit at a minimum of 26% (the lowest bracket for the AMT). This strategy is tricky and best left to a tax professional to figure out.
  7. Exercising Incentive Stock Options and Holding the Stock – Many employers offer stock options to their employees. One type of option is called a qualified or incentive stock option. The taxpayer does not recognize income when the options are exercised and becomes qualified for long-term capital gain treatment upon sale of the stock acquired from the option if the stock is held more than a year after the option was exercised and two years after the option was granted. However, for AMT purposes, the difference between the option price and the exercise price is AMT income in the year the option is exercised, which frequently triggers an AMT tax when large blocks of stock are exercised. Tax reform did not change this provision.

Although your chances of being affected by the AMT have significantly diminished, there is still a possibility you can be affected by it. Your chances increase if you have investment or business interests that are subject to AMT adjustments not encountered by the average taxpayer (and not discussed in this article). The AMT is an extremely complicated area of tax law that requires careful planning to minimize its effects. If you have any questions, please contact us for further assistance.

Big Changes for Vehicle Tax Deductions

In the past, the business use of a vehicle was determined either by using the standard mileage rate for business or using actual expenses plus vehicle depreciation limited by the luxury auto caps. That continues to be the case, except the luxury auto depreciation limit has been substantially increased. In addition, there are other changes as detailed in this article.

Standard Mileage Rates – The standard mileage rates for the business use of a car (or a van, pickup, or panel truck) are:

STANDARD MILEAGE RATES FOR BUSINESS
2017
2018
53.5 Cents Per Mile
54.5 Cents Per Mile

However, the standard mileage rates cannot be used if you have used the actual expense 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.

Actual Expense Method – 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. Actual expenses include:

  • Gasoline
  • Oil
  • Lubrication
  • Repairs
  • Vehicle registration fees
  • Insurance
  • Depreciation (or lease payments).

However, these expenses must be allocated between deductible business use and nondeductible personal use, making it necessary to keep records of business miles and total miles in order to document the allocation between business and personal use.

Vehicle Depreciation – The so-called “luxury auto” rules limit the annual deduction for depreciation. Tax reform substantially increased these limits providing much larger first and second-year deductions for more expensive vehicles. The table below displays the limits that apply to vehicles placed in service in 2017 and 2018 and shows the substantial increase for 2018. These rates are inflation adjusted in subsequent years.

Tax reform also included 100% bonus depreciation, which, at the election of the taxpayer, can be added to the first-year luxury auto rates (see the amounts for “First Year with Bonus” in the table below). However, instead of an $8,000 increase, if the vehicle was purchased before September 28, 2017, but not put into service until 2018 or 2019, the increase to the first year depreciation cap is only $6,400 or $4,800, respectively, rather than $8,000.

LUXURY AUTO DEPRECIATION LIMITS
Trucks & Vans
Automobiles
2017
2018
2017
2018
First Year
3,560
10,000
3,160
10,000
First Year with Bonus
11,560
18,000
11,160
18,000
Second Year
5,700
16,000
5,100
16,000
Third Year
3,450
9,600
3,050
9,600
Thereafter
2,075
5,760
1,875
5,760

Vehicle Interest Expenses – Regardless of whether the standard mileage rate or actual expense method is used, a self-employed taxpayer may also deduct the business use portion of interest paid on an auto loan on their Schedule C. However, employees may not deduct interest paid on a consumer car loan.

Sale or Trade-in of a Business Vehicle – Under prior law, it was good tax strategy to trade-in a vehicle that would result in a gain, thus deferring the gain into the replacement vehicle and avoiding the tax on the gain. On the other hand, it was good practice to sell a vehicle for a loss and take advantage of the tax loss. Unfortunately tax reform no longer allows tax-deferred exchanges for anything but real estate. This does away with the aforementioned strategies, and now all sales and trade-ins are treated as sales, with any gain being taxable and any loss being deductible. However, a loss on the sale of a vehicle used solely for personal purposes is not deductible, and if the vehicle was used both for business and personal reasons, only the business portion of the loss is deductible.

Employees – Tax reform also eliminates the itemized deduction for employee business expenses; this is the place on the tax return where employees could deduct the business use of their vehicle for their employer. Thus, business vehicle expenses are no longer deductible by employees.

Please call us if you have questions related to the business use of your vehicle.

Good and Bad News About The Home Office Tax Deduction

“Home office” is a type of tax deduction that applies to the business use of a home; the space itself may not actually be an office. This category also includes using part of a home for storing inventory (e.g., for a wholesale or retail business for which the home is the only fixed location); as a day care center; as a physical meeting place for interacting with customers, patients, or clients; or the principal place of business for any trade or business.

Generally, except when used to store inventory, an office area must be used on a regular and continuing basis and exclusively restricted to the trade or business (i.e., no personal use). Two methods can be used to determine a home-office deduction: the actual-expense method and the simplified method.

Actual-Expense Method – The actual-expense method prorates home expenses based on the portion of the home that qualifies as a home office; this is generally based on square footage. These prorated expenses include mortgage interest, real property taxes, insurance, heating, electricity, maintenance, and depreciation. In the case of a rented home, rent replaces the interest, tax, and depreciation expenses. Aside from prorated expenses, 100% of directly related costs, such as painting and repair expenses specific to the office, can be deducted.

Simplified Method – The simplified method allows for a deduction equal to $5 per square footage of the home that is used for business, up to a maximum of 300 square feet, resulting in a maximum simplified deduction of $1,500.

Even if you qualify for a home-office deduction, your deduction is limited to the business activity’s gross income—not, as many people mistakenly believe, its net income. The gross-income limitation is equal to the gross sales minus the cost of goods sold. This amount is deducted on a self-employed individual’s business schedule.

The good news is that, under the tax reform, the home-office deduction is still allowed for self-employed taxpayers. The bad news is that this deduction is no longer available for employees, at least for 2018 through 2025. The reason for this change is that, for an employee, a home office is considered an employee business expense (a type of itemized deduction); Congress suspended this deduction as part of the tax reform.

If you have concerns or questions about how the home-office deduction applies to your specific circumstances, please give us a call.

Is Bunching Right for You?

 Note: The is one of a series of articles explaining how the various tax changes in the GOP’s Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (referred to as “the Act” in this article), which passed in late December of 2017, could affect you and your family, both in 2018 and future years. This series offers strategies that you can employ to reduce your tax liability under the new law.

The Act increased the standard deduction and placed new limitations on itemized deductions. Beginning with 2018 tax returns, the standard deductions will be:

  • $12,000 for single individuals and married people filing separately,
  • $18,000 for heads of household, and
  • $24,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly.

If your deductions exceed the standard deduction amount for your filing status, you are allowed to itemize the following deductions:

  • Medical expenses, to the extent they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI);
  • Taxes paid during the year (for state or local income or sales tax and for real property or personal property taxes), limited to $10,000;
  • Home mortgage interest;
  • Investment interest;
  • Charitable contributions;
  • Gambling losses, to the extent of your gambling winnings; and
  • Certain infrequently encountered tier-1 miscellaneous deductions.

Are your itemized deductions typically roughly equal to the new standard deduction amount? If so, think about using a tax strategy known as bunching. In this technique, you take the standard deduction in one year and then itemize in the next. This is accomplished by planning the payment of your deductible expenses so as to maximize them in the years when you itemize deductions. Commonly bunched deductible expenses include medical expenses, taxes, and charitable contributions.

To clearly illustrate how bunching works, here are a few examples of deductible payments that generally provide enough flexibility:

  • Medical Expenses – Say that you contract with a dentist for your child’s braces. This dentist offers you the option of an up-front lump-sum payment or a payment plan. If you make the lump-sum payment, the entire cost will be credited in the year you paid it, thereby dramatically increasing your medical expenses for that year. If you do not have the cash available for the up-front payment, then you can pay by credit card, which is treated as a lump-sum payment for tax purposes. If you do so, you must realize that the interest on that payment is not deductible; you need to determine whether incurring the interest is worth the increased tax deduction. Another important issue related to medical deductions is that only the amount of medical expenses that exceeds 7.5% of your AGI is actually deductible. In addition, this 7.5% floor will increase to 10% after 2018. There is thus no tax benefit to bunching medical deductions if the total will be less than 7.5% of your AGI (or 10% beginning in 2019).
    If you have abnormally high income in the current year, you may wish to put off medical expense payments until the following year (e.g., if 10% of the following year’s income will be less than 7.5% of this year’s income).
  • Taxes – Property taxes are generally billed annually at midyear; most locales allow for these tax bills to be paid in semiannual or quarterly installments. Thus, you have the option of paying them all at once or paying them in installments. This provides the opportunity to bunch the tax payments by paying only one semiannual installment (or 2 quarterly installments) in one year and pushing off the other semiannual (or 2 quarterly) installments until the next year. Doing so allows you to deduct 1½ years of taxes in one year and half a year of taxes in the other. However, if you are thinking of making late property tax payments as a means of bunching, you should be cautious. Late payment penalties are likely to wipe out any potential tax savings.
    If you reside in a state that has a state income tax, any such tax that is paid or withheld during the year is deductible on federal taxes. For instance, if you are making quarterly estimated state tax payments, the fourth quarter estimated payment is generally due in January of the subsequent year. This gives you the opportunity to either make that payment before December 31 (thus enabling you to deduct the payment on the current year’s return) or pay it in January before the due date (thus enabling you to use it as a deduction in the subsequent year).
    Here is a word of caution about itemized tax deductions: Under the Act, a maximum of $10,000 is allowed under itemized tax deductions, so there is no benefit gained by prepaying taxes when your tax total is already $10,000 or more. In addition, taxes are not deductible at all under the alternative minimum tax, so individuals under that tax generally derive no benefits from itemized deductions.
  • Charitable Contributions – Charitable contributions are a nice fit for bunching because they are entirely at the taxpayer’s discretion. For example, if you normally tithe to your church, you can make your normal contributions during the year but then prepay the entire subsequent year’s tithe in a lump sum in December of the current year. If you do this for all contributions that you generally make to qualified organizations, you can double up on your contributions in one year and have no charitable deductions in the next year. Normally, charities are very active in their solicitations during the holiday season, which gives you the opportunity to make forward-looking contributions at the end of the current year or to simply wait a short time and make them after the end of the year. Charitable deductions do have a limit, but for most types of contributions, it is high: 60% of AGI, beginning in 2018.

If you have questions about bunching your deductions, or if you wish to do some in-depth strategizing about how this technique could benefit you, please call for an appointment.

Tax Reform Limits Sec 1031 Exchanges to Defer Taxes

Note: This 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, and offering strategies you might employ to reduce your tax liability under the new tax laws.

Whenever you sell business or investment property and have a gain, you generally have to pay tax on the gain at the time of sale. In the past, the tax code provided an exception and allowed you to postpone paying tax on the gain if you reinvested the proceeds into similar property as part of a qualifying like-kind exchange. These types of exchanges are commonly called Sec. 1031 exchanges (referring to the tax code section that allows them). These rules have applied to real estate, cars, farm animals and other business and investment items that are like-kind property.

However, under the Act, and beginning in 2018, Sec. 1031 exchanges will only be allowed for exchanges of real property that is not held primarily for sale. It is important to note that real property located in the U.S. and real property located outside of the U.S. are not like-kind property for the purposes of these rules. Thus, exchanges of personal property and intangible property will no longer qualify for tax-deferred treatment.

Transition Rule – The provision generally applies to exchanges completed after December 31, 2017. However, an exception is provided for any exchange if the taxpayer disposes of the property disposed in the exchange on or before December 31, 2017, or if the taxpayer receives the property in the exchange on or before this date.

An example of this law change’s impact is when a business property such as a vehicle or machinery is traded in for a replacement. In the past, it was a tax strategy to sell the old property if its disposition resulted in a deductible tax loss and trade it in toward the new property if the disposition would result in a gain, thereby deferring the gain into the future. The Act has taken away that option, and now even trade-ins will result in a taxable transaction, whether it is a gain or loss.

Another example is investors in virtual currency who trade one type of virtual currency for another. They will be required to report their trades as capital gains/losses and won’t be able to use the 1031 tax-deferral rules.

If you have questions about how this change will impact your business or investment transactions, please give us a call.

Business Owners Beware – New Tax Law Severely Limits Entertainment Deductions

Note: This is one of a series of articles explaining how the various tax changes in the GOP’s Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (referred to as “the Act” in this article), which passed in late December of 2017, could affect you and your family, both in 2018 and future years. This series offers strategies that you can employ to reduce your tax liability under the new law.

If you are a business owner who is accustomed to treating clients to sporting events, golf getaways, concerts and the like, we have some bad news for you. The GOP’s tax-reform bill that President Trump signed on December 22nd of last year eliminated the business-related deduction for entertainment, amusement or recreation expenses, effective beginning in 2018.

This doesn’t mean you can’t still entertain your clients; it just means you can no longer deduct 50% of the cost of that entertainment as a business expense, making it more costly for you to entertain clients.

But all is not lost! The Act does retain a deduction for business meals that are directly related to or associated with the active conduct of your business. The term “directly related” means that actual business discussions were conducted during the meal and you anticipated a specific business benefit from the meal. The term “associated with” is more liberal and includes meals either preceding or following a bona fide business discussion. In either case, the business deduction continues to be 50% of the actual expense. Also remember that business meals must be documented, including the amount, business purpose, date, time, place and names of the guests as well as their business relationship with you.

That’s not all! In the past, employers have been accustomed to deducting 100% of the cost of food and beverages provided to employees at or near the place of business. That too has changed, and the Act now subjects food and beverages supplied to employees to the 50% limitation. But that deduction is only allowed through 2025. As of 2026, employers’ costs for food and beverages furnished to employees will not be deductible.

Meals while traveling out of town on business continue to be deductible and are also subject to the 50% limitation.

If you have questions related to entertainment and meal expenses, please give us a call.