States Sue U.S. to Void $10,000 Cap on State and Local Tax Deduction

Four states – New York, Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey – have sued the federal government to void the tax-reform cap on the federal itemized deduction for state and local taxes, contending that limiting the deduction is unconstitutional. The taxes at issue include state and local income taxes, real property (real estate) taxes and personal property taxes.

These states – all Democratic (blue states), with some of the highest state and local tax rates in the nation – saw this deduction limitation as political retribution from the Republican-controlled Congress and have passed state legislation attempting to circumvent the tax reform provision limiting the federal itemized deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) to $10,000.

Both NY and NJ have created charitable funds that their state constituents can contribute to and allows them to receive a credit against their state and local taxes. NY’s legislation allows 85% of the amount contributed to the fund as a credit against taxes, while NJ allows 90%. The Connecticut law allows municipalities to create charitable organizations that taxpayers can contribute to in support of town services, from which they then receive a corresponding credit on their local property taxes. Each of these measures essentially circumvents the $10,000 limitation on SALT deductions.

However, two big questions are whether a donation for which a donor receives personal benefit is really a deductible charitable contribution and whether the state legislatures really thought this through. These work-arounds overlook one of the long-standing definitions of a deductible charitable contribution: the donor cannot receive any personal benefit from the donation.

Recently, the IRS waded into the issue with Notice 2018-54 and an accompanying news release, informing taxpayers that it intends to propose regulations addressing the federal income tax treatment of certain payments made by taxpayers to state-established “charitable funds,” for which the contributors receive a credit against their state and local taxes – essentially, the work-arounds adopted or proposed by the states noted above and others. In general, the IRS indicated that the characterization of these payments would be determined under the Code, informed by substance-over-form principles and not the label assigned by the state.

The proposed regulations will:

  1. “Make clear” that the requirements of the Code, informed by substance-over-form principles (see below), govern the federal income tax treatment of such transfers; and
  2. Assist taxpayers in “understanding the relationship between the federal charitable contribution deduction and the new statutory limitation” on the SALT deduction.

Substance over form is a judicial doctrine in which a court looks to the objective economic realities of a transaction, rather than to the particular form the parties employed. In essence, the formalisms of a transaction are disregarded, and the substance is examined to determine its true nature.

The implication of the IRS’s reference to the substance-over-form doctrine is likely that the formal mechanisms for implementing the state work-arounds – e.g., charitable contributions to “charitable gifts trust funds” – will not dictate their tax treatment. That is to say, the IRS will not recognize a charitable contribution deduction that is a disguised SALT deduction.

While the notice only mentions work-arounds involving transfers to state-controlled funds, another type of work-around has been enacted, and others have been proposed. In addition to the “charitable gifts trust funds” described above, New York also created a new “employer compensation expense tax” that essentially converts employee income taxes into employer payroll taxes. The IRS stated in Information Release 2018-122 that it is “continuing to monitor other legislative proposals” to “ensure that federal law controls the characterization of deductions for federal income tax filings.”

Allowing these work-arounds to stand would open Pandora’s Box to other schemes to circumvent the charitable contribution rules. For example, a church could take donations and then give the parishioner credit for the parishioner’s children’s tuition at the church’s school – something that is not currently allowed.

Have these states set their citizens up for IRS troubles if they utilize these work-arounds? Are these states now concerned that their work-arounds might not pass muster and will be ruled invalid after several years in the courts, so they are now pre-emptively suing the federal government?

Taxpayers in states with work-arounds should carefully consider all potential ramifications when deciding whether to get involved with something that could drag through the courts for years, with potential interest and penalties on taxes owed if (more likely, when) the IRS prevails. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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.

How Some High-Income Taxpayers Can Maximize the New 20% Pass-through Business Deduction

Taxpayers with higher 1040 taxable incomes who are self-employed but are not “specified service businesses” may find it beneficial to structure new businesses, or restructure an existing business, as an S corporation to avoid taxable income limitations that apply to the new 20% Sec. 199A pass-through deduction.

To make up for the tax reform’s reduction of the C corporation tax rate to 21%, from which other forms of business activities do not benefit, Congress created a new deduction and code section: 199A. The 199A deduction is for taxpayers with other business activities – such as sole proprietorships, rentals, partnerships and S corporations – since, unlike C corporations, which are directly taxed on their profits, the income from the other business activities flows through to the owner’s tax return and is taxed at the individual level, i.e., at the individual’s tax rate, which can be as high as 37%.

This new Sec. 199A deduction is 20% of the pass-through income from these business activities. But not every owner of these flow-through businesses will benefit from this deduction because, as in all things tax, there are limitations.

Whether or not a taxpayer will benefit from the deduction will depend in great part upon the taxpayer’s 1040 taxable income figured without the Sec. 199A deduction. Married taxpayers with a taxable income below $315,000 (or below $157,500, for others) will benefit from the full 20% deduction.

However, limitations begin to apply when a taxpayer’s 1040 taxable income exceeds those amounts. The most restrictive limitation is the one placed on “specified service businesses.” Once married taxpayers filing jointly have a 1040 taxable income exceeding $415,000 (or above $207,500, for others), they receive no Sec 199A deduction benefit from any pass-through income derived from a specified service business. Specified service businesses include trades or businesses involving the performance of services in the fields of health, law, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, or brokerage services or any trade or business in which the principal asset of the trade or business is the reputation or skill of one or more of its employees or owners. Note that an engineering or architecture business is not a specified service business for this deduction.

On the other hand, a taxpayer can still benefit from pass-through income from other business activities, even when the taxpayer’s 1040 taxable income exceeds the $415,000/$207,500 limits, provided the business activity pays wages and/or has qualified business property, the combination of which make up what is referred to as the wage limitation. Without getting too complicated, the Sec. 199A deduction is the lesser of 20% of one’s pass-through income or the wage limitation. If the wage limit is zero, then the Sec. 199A deduction would also be zero for these high-income taxpayers. The wage limitation itself is the greater of 50% of the wages paid by the business activity or 25% of the wages paid plus 2.5% of the cost of qualified business property. Perhaps this is best explained by example.

Example #1: Peter and his wife have a 1040 taxable income of $475,000. Peter has a self-employed business (not a specified service business), from which he has a net profit of $300,000, and his tentative 199A deduction is $60,000 (20% of $300,000). However, because his taxable income exceeds $415,000, his Sec. 199A deduction is the lesser of $60,000 or the wage limit. Peter has no employees or qualified business property, so his wage limitation is zero; thus, his Sec. 199A deduction is also zero.

Example #2: Same as example #1, except Peter’s business is organized as an S corporation. Of his net profit of $300,000, it is determined that a reasonable compensation (wage) for the services Peter provides to the S corporation is $150,000, which the S Corporation pays as a salary to Peter. The other $150,000 is pass-through income. Now, Peter’s Sec. 199A deduction is the lesser of 20% of the pass-through income – $30,000 (20% of $150,000) – or the wage limitation, which is 50% of the wages paid by the S Corporation or $75,000 (50% of $150,000).

This demonstrates how a business activity can benefit from being organized as an S corporation, since S corporations are required to pay working shareholders a reasonable wage for their services provided in operating the business. They are able to divide the pass-through income between reasonable wages and pass-through income to enable a 199A deduction for a higher-income taxpayer. Other business entities do not provide this option, which is the reason why high-taxable-income taxpayers might explore the benefits of organizing new businesses as, or reorganizing their existing businesses into, an S corporation.

Of course, there are other issues involved as well, and some sole proprietors may not find it worth the expense or effort to switch to a different type of business entity. However, the higher the taxpayer’s income, the more beneficial it becomes. The same issues also apply to partnerships. To see if organizing or reorganizing your business activity into an S corporation can reduce your tax liability, call us for an appointment.


Has Tax Reform Taken Away Your Home Mortgage Interest Deduction?

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, more commonly referred to as tax reform, substantially altered the itemized deduction for home mortgage interest. It affects just about everyone who has been deducting their home mortgage interest as an itemized deduction on their tax returns.

Background: To fully understand the impact of the law changes, we need to compare the prior tax law to the new tax reform. Under prior law, a taxpayer could deduct the interest he or she paid on up to $1 million of acquisition debt and $100,000 of equity debt secured by the taxpayer’s primary home and/or designated second home.

Qualified home acquisition debt is debt incurred to purchase, construct, or substantially improve a taxpayer’s primary home or second home and is secured by the home. The interest paid on up to $1 million of acquisition debt has been deductible as part of itemized deductions on Schedule A.

Home equity debt is debt that is not acquisition debt and is secured by the taxpayer’s primary home or second home, but only the interest paid on up to $100,000 of equity debt had been deductible as home mortgage interest. Often, home equity debt is used to purchase a new car, finance a vacation, or pay off credit card debt or other personal loans – all situations in which the interest on a consumer loan obtained for these purposes wouldn’t have been deductible.

The old law continues to apply to home acquisition debts by grandfathering the home acquisition debts incurred before December 16, 2017, to the limits that applied prior to the changes made by tax reform. As explained later in this article, equity debt interest didn’t survive in the tax reform’s legal changes.

New Acquisition Debt Limits: Under the new law, which took effect for home acquisition loans obtained after December 15, 2017, the acquisition debt limit has been reduced to $750,000. Thus, if a taxpayer is buying a home for the first time, the deductible amount of acquisition debt interest will now be limited to the interest paid on up to $750,000 of the debt. If the home acquisition debt exceeds the $750,000 limit, a prorated amount of the interest is still deductible.

If a taxpayer already has a home with grandfathered acquisition debt and wishes to finance a substantial improvement on the home or acquire a second home, the new acquisition debt, for which the interest would be deductible, would be limited to $750,000 less the grandfathered acquisition debt existing at the time of the new loan. This may be a tough pill to swallow for many future homebuyers, since the cost of housing is on the rise while Congress has seen fit to reduce the cap on acquisition debt, on which interest is deductible.

Equity Debt: Under the new law, equity debt interest is no longer deductible after 2017, and this even applies to interest on existing equity debt, essentially pulling the rug out from underneath taxpayers who had previously taken equity out of their homes for other purposes and who were benefiting from the itemized deduction.

Tracing Equity Debt Interest: Because home mortgage interest rates are generally lower than business or investment loan rates and easier to qualify for, many taxpayers have used the equity in their home to start businesses, acquire rental property, or make investments, or on other uses for which the interest would be deductible. With the demise of the Schedule A home equity debt interest deduction, taxpayers can now trace interest on equity debt to other deductible uses. However, if the debt cannot be traced to a deductible purpose, unfortunately, the equity interest will no longer be deductible.

Refinancing: Under prior law, a taxpayer could refinance existing acquisition debt and the allowable interest would be deductible for the full term of the new loan. Under tax reform, the allowable interest will only be deductible for the remaining term of the debt that was refinanced. For example, under the old rules, if you refinanced a 30-year term loan after 15 years into a new 25-year loan, the interest would have been deductible for the entire 25-year term of the new loan. However, under tax reform, the interest on the refinanced loan would only be deductible for 15 years – the remaining term of the refinanced debt.

Determining when home mortgage interest is deductible and how much was deductible was frequently complicated under the prior tax law, and the new rules have added a whole new level of complexity. Please call us if you have questions about your particular home loan interest, refinancing, or equity debt interest tracing circumstances.

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.

Preparing for Taxes for 2018 and Beyond

Tax reform has changed the way most taxpayers need to think about and plan for their taxes. It is no longer business as usual, and those who think it is are in for a rude awakening come tax time next year.

For most taxpayers, the most significant change is the increase in their standard deduction, which on the surface seems like a big benefit. But don’t overlook the fact that the same tax reform that nearly doubled the standard deduction took away the personal exemption as a deduction. So, for example, under old law, a married couple’s standard deduction would have been $13,000, and their two personal exemptions would have been $8,300 (2 x $4,150), for a total deduction of $21,300. Under the new law, they will be able to deduct $24,000, the new standard deduction for 2018. So, their total increase over what they would have gotten under prior law is only $2,700. If they have four children, their deductions for 2018 under prior law would have been $37,900 ($13,000 plus 6 x $4,150), as compared to the new law’s $24,000. However, for individuals with children under age 17, the child tax credit for 2018 was increased to $2,000 (with $1,400 being refundable) from the prior $1,000, in many cases making up for the loss in the exemption deduction. Note that a credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of the tax, while a deduction reduces the income that is taxable.

Tax reform also placed some limitations on itemized deductions by limiting the amount that can be claimed for state and local taxes as well as totally eliminating the deduction for employee business expenses along with some other commonly encountered deductions. Thus, the remaining allowable itemized deduction categories are medical (in excess of 7.5% of AGI), up to $10,000 of state and local taxes, home acquisition debt interest, investment interest, charitable contributions and gambling losses (limited to the amount of gambling income).

Some taxpayers may be able to employ what is referred to as the “bunching” strategy as a workaround. This strategy has the taxpayer taking the standard deduction one year and itemizing the next. This is accomplished by doubling up charitable contributions in one year and skipping donations the next year, deferring or pre-paying medical expenses where possible, and paying state estimates in advance for the year of itemizing and prepaying all assessed property taxes, while keeping in mind that the maximum deduction for taxes in any year is $10,000. This strategy should only be used if the shifting of deductions results in total itemized deductions being greater than the year’s standard deduction.

Another huge issue is the loss of employee business expenses. This means the likes of long-haul truckers, traveling salespeople and others with large employee business expenses should seek out accountable expense reimbursement plans with their employers, even if they have to reduce their pay to balance it out.

For taxpayers in business, tax reform offers 100% expensing of purchased tangible business assets other than structures. At the same time, it also offers a new 20% flow-through business deduction. The combination of these two deductions must be carefully considered because expensing rather than depreciating the cost of equipment, machinery, etc., will reduce the business’s profit, which will in turn reduce the flow-through deduction. On the flip side, the new 20% deduction is limited for certain higher-income individuals, and reducing income by expensing capital purchases may actually help one to qualify for the deduction.

Married couples contemplating divorce will have to understand how the law changes will affect their situation and whether they should finalize the divorce before the end of the year. Currently, alimony is deductible by the payer and taxable to the recipient. Tax reform has changed that long-standing rule for divorce agreements entered into after December 31, 2018, or pre-existing agreements that are modified after that date, to include a new provision saying that alimony is no longer deductible by the payer and is not income to the recipient. Of course, the treatment of alimony can be adversarial and can also be a planning issue for 2018.

Here are some additional issues of importance:

  • Business entertainment expenses are no longer deductible.
  • Up to $10,000 of Qualified Tuition Plan (Sec. 529) funds can be used for elementary and high school expenses, if permitted by the plan.
  • Taxpayers who convert their traditional IRA to a Roth IRA can no longer change their minds and undo the conversion.
  • Casualty losses, other than those incurred in a federally declared disaster area, are no longer deductible, so you should consider whether you have adequate insurance.
  • Moving expenses are no longer tax deductible, and employer reimbursement for moving costs is now taxable income. If an employer requires an employee to relocate, consider having the employer provide a tax gross-up reimbursement.
  • Taxpayers basing their ability to purchase a home on the tax deduction they will derive from the interest they’ll be paying need to be aware that for homes purchased after 2017, the home mortgage interest deduction is limited to the interest paid on the first $750,000 ($375,000) of home acquisition debt.
  • Taxpayers who have tapped their home’s equity in the past should be aware that they can no longer deduct home equity debt interest, even if the debt was acquired before 2018 and is $100,000 or less.
  • For taxpayers residing in a state that has a state income tax, some or all of the federal tax reform changes may not apply for state filing purposes, or they may apply only if the state legislature enacts conforming legislation.

As you can see, it is definitely not business as usual. If you have any questions about how tax reform may affect you, please contact us.

Big Changes Ahead For How Alimony is Treated for Tax Purposes

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 in future years. This series offers strategies that you can employ to reduce your tax liability under the new law.

Alimony is the term used for payments to a separated spouse or ex-spouse as part of a divorce or separation agreement. Since 1985, to be alimony for tax purposes, the payments:

  • Must be in cash, paid to the spouse, ex-spouse, or a third party on behalf of a spouse or ex-spouse;
  • Must be required by a decree or instrument incident to a divorce, a written separation agreement, or a support decree;
  • Cannot be designated as child support;
  • Will be valid alimony only if the taxpayers live apart after the decree is issued or the agreement is signed. Spouses who share the same household don’t qualify for alimony deductions. This is true even if the spouses live separately within the dwelling unit.
  • Must end on the death of the payee; and
  • Cannot be contingent on the status of a child (that is, any amount that is discontinued when a child reaches 18, moves away, etc., is not alimony).

The payments need not be for support of the ex-spouse or based on the marital relationship. They can even be payments for property rights, as long as they meet the above requirements. Payments need not be periodic, but there are dollar limits and “recapture” provisions if there is excess front-loading of payments. Even if the payments meet all of the alimony requirements, the couple may designate in their agreement or decree that the payments are not alimony, and that designation will be valid for tax purposes.

Divorce Agreements Completed before the End of 2018 – For divorce agreements finalized before the end of 2018, the recipient (payee) of alimony must include it in his or her income for tax purposes. The payer is allowed to deduct the payments above the line (without itemizing deductions), technically referred to as an adjustment to gross income. The spouse receiving the alimony can treat it as earned income for purposes of qualifying to make an IRA contribution, thus allowing the recipient spouse to contribute to an IRA even if he or she has no other income from working.

Because the spouses making the payments will sometimes claim more alimony than they actually paid and some recipient spouses will sometimes report less alimony income than they received, the IRS requires the paying spouse to include on his or her tax return the recipient spouse’s Social Security number so the IRS can match by computer the amount received to the amount paid.

Divorce Agreements Completed after 2018 – Under the Act, for divorce agreements entered into after 2018, the alimony is not deductible by the payer and is not taxable income for the recipient. Since the recipient isn’t reporting alimony income, it cannot be treated as earned income for purposes of the recipient making an IRA contribution.

This revised treatment of alimony also applies to any divorce or separation instrument executed before January 1, 2019, that is modified after 2018, if the modification expressly provides that the change made by the Act is to apply.

If you have questions about the treatment of alimony or other tax matters related to divorce, please give us a call.


Employee Business Expenses & Tax Reform

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 an employee (i.e., a W-2 wage earner) with substantial work-related business expenses, the Act was not kind to you. It suspended (and effectively repealed), for 2018 through 2025, all miscellaneous itemized deductions, which were previously only subject to a floor of 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI). Employee business expenses are included in that category of miscellaneous itemized deductions.

This change affects those who are compensated as employees and who have work-related expenses—including salespeople with travel and entertainment expenses, long-haul truck drivers with away-from-home expenses, mechanics with tool expenses, and any other employees with large but unreimbursed business expenses. These employees, beginning in 2018, will no longer be able to count such expenses as itemized deductions.

Will this change hurt you? That depends. Because employee business expenses could previously only be deducted to the extent that they exceeded 2% of AGI, the effects of the Act will depend upon the extent of your expenses. Another consideration is whether your total itemized deductions would have exceeded the new standard deduction, which has increased for 2018.

As a remedy, you may want to contact your employer and try to negotiate an “accountable plan,” which is a business-expense reimbursement plan under which the employer can reimburse you, tax-free, for business expenses. With this arrangement, you would need to substantiate your business expenses to your employer and would have to return (within a specified time limit) any reimbursements that your employer pays in excess of the substantiated amount.

If you have questions related to the loss of this deduction or about how the change will impact your specific tax situation, please call us.

How Small Businesses Write Off Equipment Purchases

From time to time, an owner of a small business will purchase equipment, office furnishings, vehicles, computer systems and other items for use in the business. How to deduct the cost for tax purposes is not always an easy decision because there are a number of options available, and the decision will depend upon whether a big deduction is needed for the acquisition year or more benefit can be obtained by deducting the expense over a number of years using depreciation. The following are the write-off options currently available:

  • Depreciation – Depreciation is the normal accounting way of writing off business capital purchases by spreading the deduction of the cost over several years. The IRS regulations specify the number of years for the write-off based on established asset categories, and generally for small business purchases the categories include 3-, 5- or 7-year write-offs. The 5-year category includes autos, small trucks, computers, copiers, and certain technological and research equipment, while the 7-year category includes office fixtures, furniture and equipment.
  • Material & Supply Expensing – IRS regulations allow certain materials and supplies that cost $200 or less, or that have a useful life of less than one year, to be expensed (deducted fully in one year) rather than depreciated.
  • De Minimis Safe Harbor Expensing – IRS regulations also allow small businesses to expense up to $2,500 of equipment purchases. The limit applies per item or per invoice, providing a substantial leeway in expensing purchases. The $2,500 limit is increased to $5,000 for businesses that have an applicable financial statement, generally large businesses.
  • Routine Maintenance – IRS regulations allow a deduction for expenditures used to keep a unit of property in operating condition where a business expects to perform the maintenance twice during the class life of the property. Class life is different than depreciable life.
    Depreciable Item Class Life Depreciable Life
    Office Furnishings 10 7
    Information Systems 6 5
    Computers 6 5
    Autos & Taxis 3 5
    Light Trucks 4 5
    Heavy Trucks 6 5


  • Unlimited Expensing – The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in December 2017 includes a provision allowing 100% unlimited expensing of tangible business assets (except structures) acquired after September 27, 2017 and through 2022. Applies when a taxpayer first uses the asset (can be new or used property).
  • Bonus Depreciation – The tax code provides for a first-year bonus depreciation that allows a business to deduct 50% of the cost of most new tangible property if it is placed in service during 2017. The remaining cost is deducted over the asset’s depreciable life. The 50% rate applies for new property placed in service prior to September 28, 2017 and, by election, to new or used property acquired and first put into use by the taxpayer after September 27, 2017 and before December 31, 2017.
  • Sec 179 Expensing – Another option provided by the tax code is an expensing provision for small businesses that allows a certain amount of the cost of tangible equipment purchases to be expensed in the year the property is first placed into business service. This tax provision is commonly referred to as Sec. 179 expensing, named after the tax code section that sanctions it. The expensing is limited to an annual inflation adjusted amount, which is $510,000 for 2017 and $1 million for 2018. To ensure that this provision is limited to small businesses, whenever a business has purchases of property eligible for Sec 179 treatment that exceed the year’s investment limit ($2,030,000 for 2017 and $2.5 million for 2018), the annual expensing allowance is reduced by one dollar for each dollar the investment limit is exceeded.
    An undesirable consequence of using Sec. 179 expensing occurs when the item is disposed of before the end of its normal depreciable life. In that case, the difference between normal depreciation and the Sec. 179 deduction is recaptured and added to income in the year of disposition.
  • Mixing Methods – A mixture of Sec. 179 expensing, bonus depreciation and regular depreciation can be used on a specific item, allowing just about any amount of write-off for the year for that asset.

For some individual taxpayers the alternative minimum tax (AMT) may be a concern. Bonus depreciation and Sec. 179 expensing are not preference items, and therefore their use will not trigger an AMT add-on tax. However, the difference between 200% MACRS depreciation, if claimed, and 150% MACRS depreciation is a preference item for AMT and could cause or add to the AMT tax.

If you have any questions related to this article, please give us a call.

Medical Deductions & The New Tax Law

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’s final version retained the itemized deduction for medical expenses even though the original House version would have done away with this deduction altogether.

The medical deduction was not just retained; its adjusted gross income (AGI) floor was lowered from 10% to 7.5% for 2017 and 2018 (after which it returns to 10%). The AGI floor is meant to eliminate deductions for minor medical costs by only allowing those that are in excess of the given percentage of your AGI.

Example: You have wages of $100,000 for 2018 and no other income, losses, or adjustments, so your AGI for the year is $100,000. In this case, for the year, the first $7,500 (7.5% of $100,000) of your otherwise deductible medical expenses is not deductible. Thus, if you have $8,000 of medical expenses, only $500 ($8,000 – $7,500) is deductible. If you have the same amount of income and medical expenses in 2019, none of your medical costs will be deductible because of the 10% floor; 10% of a $100,000 AGI is $10,000, which is greater than the $8,000 of medical expenses. Of course, there’s always a chance that Congress will extend the reduced 7.5% floor beyond 2018, but you shouldn’t count on it. 

Here is where it gets a little complicated. Because medical deductions are itemized, to get any benefit from them, your itemized deductions must exceed the new standard deduction, which is $24,000 for a married couple filing jointly (or for a surviving spouse with a dependent child), $18,000 for a head of household, and $12,000 for anyone else.

Retaining the medical deduction is a necessary for the families of disabled individuals and for senior citizens who require extraordinary care. Without this deduction, those groups could have been saddled with enormous medical costs without any tax relief. However, this deduction is not just for disabled individuals, senior citizens, and their families. Regarding medical bills, you never know what will happen in the future.

Bunching Deductions – One strategy that works well for itemized deductions is to bunch deductions. That means paying as much of your medical expenses as possible in a single year so that the total will exceed the AGI floor and so that your overall itemized deductions will exceed the standard deduction.

Example: Your child is having orthodontic work that will cost a total of $12,000, and the dentist offers a payment plan. If you pay in installments, you will spread the payments out over several years and may not exceed the medical AGI floor in any given year. However, by paying all at once, you will exceed the floor and get a medical deduction.

Being Aware of Medical Deductions – Being aware of what is and is not deductible as a medical expense can also help you to maximize your medical deductions. Unreimbursed costs such as those from doctors, dentists, hospitals, and medical insurance premiums are deductible. The following is a list of some deductible medical expenses that you may not be aware of:

  • Adoptive children’s pre-adoption medical costs
  • Prescriptions for birth control pills
  • Chiropractors
  • Christian Science practitioners
  • Decedent’s medical costs
  • Adult diapers
  • Drug-addiction rehabilitation costs
  • Egg-donation expenses
  • Elderly devices
  • Medical equipment and supplies
  • Fertility enhancements
  • Guide dogs
  • Household nursing services
  • Impairment-related home modifications
  • In vitro fertilization costs
  • Lactation aids
  • Lead-based paint removal
  • Learning-disability tuition expenses
  • Medical-related legal fees
  • Meals from inpatient care
  • Medical-conference expenses
  • Medicare premiums
  • Nonhospital institution costs
  • Nursing-home expenses
  • Organ-donation costs
  • Smoking-cessation programs
  • Sterilization expenses
  • Weight-loss programs (limited)

Some of the foregoing have special requirements, so please call if you have any questions.

Under certain circumstances, you may even be able to deduct the medical expenses that you pay for others.

Medical dependents – This applies only if you had a dependent (a qualified child or other relative) either at the time the medical services were provided or at the time the expenses were paid. For medical purposes, an individual can be a dependent even if his or her gross income precludes qualification as a dependent.

Divorced parents – A child of divorced parents is considered a dependent of both parents for the purpose of medical expense, so each parent can deduct the medical expenses that he or she pays for the child.

If you have questions related to the deductibility of specific medical expenses or about how such deductions apply to your tax situation, please give us a call.