Little-Known Tactic Increases Child Care Credit

When both spouses in a married couple are jointly involved in the operation of an unincorporated business (generally a Schedule C), it is fairly common – but incorrect – for all of that business’s income to be reported as just one spouse’s income, even when they both work in the business.

In such cases, the spouse not taking credit for his or her portion of the earned income loses out on the chance to accumulate his or her own eligibility for Social Security benefits. In addition, to claim a child care credit, both spouses on a joint return must have earned income (or imputed income if one of the spouses is a full-time student or is disabled), so unless the spouse not including a portion of the income from the joint business has another source of earned income, the couple will not be allowed a child care credit.

There are ways to remedy this situation, however. One option is to file a partnership return for the activity, in which case each spouse will receive a K-1 that reports his or her share of the net profit. An approach that avoids the necessity of filing a partnership return, and that is probably less complicated, is a qualified joint-venture election, in which each spouse elects to file a separate Schedule C for his or her respective share of the business. This gives them both self-employed income for the purposes of the self-employment tax and for claiming the child care credit.

A qualified joint venture refers to any joint venture involving the conduct of a trade or business if:

(1) The only members of the joint venture are husband and wife,
(2) Both spouses materially participate in the trade or business, and
(3) Both spouses elect to apply this rule.

Generally, to meet the material participation requirement, each spouse will have to participate in the activity for 500 hours or more during the tax year.

If the net income from the business exceeds the annual cap on income subject to the Social Security tax, the combined self-employment tax for the spouses with split Schedule Cs will exceed what a single spouse would have paid if he or she had filed a single Schedule C.

An additional benefit when filing split Schedule Cs is the opportunity for both spouses to participate in IRAs and self-employed retirement plans.

If you have questions about how splitting the business income between spouses might apply to your specific situation, please contact this office.

Minimizing Tax on Social Security Benefits

Whether your Social Security benefits are taxable (and, if so, how much of them are) depends on a number of issues. The following facts will help you understand the taxability of your Social Security benefits.

  • For this discussion, the term “Social Security benefits” refers to the gross amount of benefits you receive (i.e., the amount before reduction due to payments withheld for Medicare premiums). The tax treatment of Social Security benefits is the same whether the benefits are paid due to disability, retirement or reaching the eligibility age. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are not included in the computation because they are not taxable under any circumstances.
  • How much of your Social Security benefits are taxable (if any) depends on your total income and marital status.

    o If Social Security is your only source of income, it is generally not taxable.

    o On the other hand, if you have other significant income, as much as 85% of your Social Security benefits can be taxable.

    o If you are married and filing separately, and you lived with your spouse at any time during the year, 85% of your Social Security benefits are taxable regardless of your income. This is to prevent married taxpayers who live together from filing separately, thereby reducing the income on each return and thus reducing the amount of Social Security income subject to tax.

  • The following quick computation can be done to determine if some of your benefits are taxable:

    Step 1. First, add one-half of the total Social Security benefits you received to the total of your other income, including any tax-exempt interest and other exclusions from income.

    Step 2. Then, compare this total to the base amount used for your filing status. If the total is more than the base amount, some of your benefits may be taxable.

The base amounts are:

  • $32,000 for married couples filing jointly;
  • $25,000 for single persons, heads of household, qualifying widows/widowers with dependent children, and married individuals filing separately who did not live with their spouses at any time during the year; and
  • $0 for married persons filing separately who lived together during the year.

Where taxpayers can defer their “other” income from one year to another, such as by taking Individual Retirement Account (IRA) distributions, they may be able to plan their income so as to eliminate or minimize the tax on their Social Security benefits from one year to another. However, the required minimum distribution rules for IRAs and other retirement plans have to be taken into account.

Individuals who have substantial IRAs—and who either aren’t required to make withdrawals or are making their post age 70.5 required minimum distributions without withdrawing enough to reach the Social Security taxable threshold—may be missing an opportunity for some tax-free withdrawals. Everyone’s circumstances are different, however, and what works for one may not work for another.

If you have questions about how these issues affect your specific situation, or if you wish to do some tax planning, please give this office a call.