Solar Tax Credit – The Dark Side

There are TV ads, telemarketing phone calls and sales people at your front door all promoting the benefits of solar power, and one of the key considerations and a frequently mentioned benefit is the 30% federal tax credit.

What isn’t included in the ads — and something most potential buyers are unaware of — is that the solar credit is a nonrefundable tax credit, meaning the credit can only be used to offset your tax liability. This can come as a very unpleasant surprise and is often a financial hardship when the purchaser of a home solar system finds out that the credit is nonrefundable and that they won’t get the full credit.

For example, a married couple with three children, all under age 17, and an annual income of $78,000 installed a solar system costing $20,000 in 2018, expecting a $6,000 credit on their tax return. Their standard deduction in 2018 is $24,000, leaving them with a taxable income of $54,000. The tax on the $54,000 is $6,099. They are also entitled to a $2,000 child tax credit for each child, which reduces their tax liability by $6,000 and results in a tax liability of $99. Since the solar credit is nonrefundable, the only portion of the credit they can use is $99, not the $6,000 they had expected.

On top of that, the family is probably financing the solar system, which significantly adds to the system’s cost. If the entire $20,000 cost were financed by a 5% home equity loan for 20 years, then the interest on that loan over its term would be $11,678, bringing the total cost of the solar system to $31,678 or a monthly cost of $132.

Some municipalities even allow home energy improvements to be financed through the property tax system by adding the payments to the quarterly or semi-annual property tax bills. Interest rates on these arrangements are generally higher than home equity loans, reaching levels of 9 to 10%. If the loan in our prior example would have been at 9%, then the interest on the loan over 20 years would be $23,187, bringing the total cost to $43,187 or a monthly cost of $180. It is also a common misconception that solar system payments added to the property tax bill can be deducted as property taxes. That is incorrect; however, the interest portion of the loan payment is generally deductible as home acquisition debt interest. The lender should supply a loan amortization schedule indicating the annual interest amount.

The unused credit does carry over from year to year as long as the solar energy credit is available. Currently, the credit is being phased out, and 2021 is the last year it can be claimed. Furthermore, the credit percentage rate is being phased down, with the 30% continuing through 2019 and then dropping to 26% in 2020 and 22% in its final year.

In lieu of purchasing a solar system, some homeowners opt to lease a system. This arrangement is not eligible for the solar credit.

As you can see, there is a lot to consider before making the final decision to install a solar system. Is it worth it, and is it the right thing financially for you? Please call for a consultation before signing any contract to make sure a solar system is appropriate for you.

Should I Use a Credit Card to Pay My Taxes?

With tax filing season out of the way, paying off those tax bills that weren’t paid by April 18th is the next major concern for people. While there are a few options for payment agreements if you can’t afford to write a check for the full amount immediately, there’s also the option of paying your tax bill with a credit card. It can be less confusing than navigating IRS payment plans, and if your credit card has a nice rewards program, then it’s something to think about.

Depending on how much you owe in taxes and what terms your credit card offers, it may or may not be worth putting your tax bill on your credit card. Here are some of the pros and cons of using a credit card to pay your taxes and why you would or wouldn’t want to pursue this option.

Processing Fees

Legally, the IRS cannot directly accept credit card payments so they use three different approved payment processors for taking credit and debit card payments. At the time of writing, the processor with the most favorable rate is pay1040.com. Their minimum processing fee is $2.59, otherwise charging 1.87% of your balance. So, if you owe $2,000 in taxes, then you’d be charged a total of $2,037.40.

Keep in mind that this processing fee is steeper the bigger that your outstanding balance is, and you need to pay it on top of whatever you’ll owe in interest. If you go on a payment plan and pay by direct debit or check, you’ll only pay the IRS interest rate and any applicable penalties with no processing fees.

Interest Rates and Balance Transfers

Interest rate varies by the credit card that you have, but the average rate is 15.07%. For the first quarter of 2018, the IRS interest rate on underpayments is 4% (expected to go up to 5% for the second quarter.) This interest rate is in addition to any applicable penalties like the .0.50% late fee that applies every month until the balance has been paid off. But the interest rate the IRS charges is a lot less than the average credit card interest rate.

If you anticipate paying your balance off over time, you will definitely pay a lot more interest with a credit card even if it’s less confusing to calculate than the IRS interest rates, which change more often. However, if you open a new credit card intended for balance transfer if your credit’s good, then you can get a few months to a whole year to pay off your balance at a 0% interest rate which both buys time and saves money. But if you’re late on the payments eventually and/or your credit isn’t that great, this isn’t a likely option.

Credit Card Rewards

Credit card rewards, like cash rebates and frequent flier miles, are what often makes the extra fees and interest tempting to put your tax balance on your credit card: Why not get a free vacation for paying your taxes?

But financial experts estimate that most credit card rewards only net you about 1% back of what you purchase. It’s worth sitting down and doing the math on how much the IRS interest rates and forgoing processing fees would save you so you can take that vacation out of pocket instead. Unless you plan on paying off your entire balance immediately and the reward offered is worth what you’ll pay in fees, reward programs aren’t likely to completely defray the costs of using a credit card for your taxes.

Tax Bills and Your Credit Report

Ultimately, if you need extra time to pay your taxes, you are better off with an IRS installment or short-term payment agreement since owing money on these plans does not appear on your credit report. However, carrying a balance will appear once you shift the responsibility from the IRS to your credit card company. In addition to impacting your available credit, it also affects your credit utilization score based on how much of your available credit is being used.

If you’re looking for housing, more credit, or other situations that warrant your credit report being pulled, then you’ll want to avoid paying your taxes with a credit card.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to weigh the risks and benefits of using a credit card to pay your taxes. If you’re taking a longer-term approach, an installment agreement is likely to cost you less both upfront and in the long run. If you have any questions related to the pros and cons of using a credit card to pay your taxes, please give us a call.

Summer Employment For Your Child

Summer is just around the corner, and your children may be looking for summer employment. With the passage of the most recent tax reform, the standard deduction for single individuals jumped from $6,350 in 2017 to $12,000 in 2018, meaning your child can now make up to $12,000 from working without paying any income tax on their earnings.

In addition, they can contribute the lesser of $5,500 or their earned income to an IRA. If they contribute to a traditional IRA, they could earn up to $17,500 tax free, since the combination of the standard deduction and the maximum allowed contribution to an IRA for 2018 is $5,500. However, looking forward to the future, a Roth IRA with its tax-free accumulation would be a better choice.

Even if your child is reluctant to give up any of their hard-earned money from their summer or regular employment, if you have the financial resources, you could gift them the funds to make the IRA contribution, giving them a great start and hopefully a continuing incentive to save for retirement.

With vacation time just around the corner and employees heading out for their summer vacations, if you are self-employed, you might consider hiring your children to help out in your business. Financially, it makes more sense to keep the family employed rather than hiring strangers, provided, of course, that the family member is suitable for the job.

Rather than helping to support your children with your after-tax dollars, you can instead hire them in your business and pay them with tax-deductible dollars. Of course, the employment must be legitimate and the pay commensurate with the hours and the job worked. A reasonable salary paid to a child reduces the self-employment income and tax of the parents (business owners) by shifting income to the child.

Example: You are in the 25% tax bracket and own a self-employed business. You hire your child (who has no investment income) and pay the child $15,000 for the year. You reduce your income by $15,000, which saves you $3,750 of income tax (25% of $15,000), and your child has a taxable income of $3,000 ($15,000 less the $12,000 standard deduction) on which the tax is only $300 (10% of $3,000).

If the business is unincorporated and the wages are paid to a child under age 18, the pay will not be subject to FICA (Social Security and Medicare taxes) since employment for FICA tax purposes doesn’t include services performed by a child under the age of 18 while employed by a parent. Thus, the child will not be required to pay the employee’s share of the FICA taxes, and the business won’t have to pay its half either.

Example: Using the same information as the previous example, and assuming your business profits are $130,000, by paying your child $15,000, you not only reduce your self-employment income for income tax purposes, but you also reduce your self-employment tax (HI portion) by $402 (2.9% of $15,000 times the SE factor of 92.35%). But if your net profits for the year were less than the maximum SE income ($128,400 for 2018) that is subject to Social Security tax, then the savings would include the 12.4% Social Security portion in addition to the 2.9% HI portion.

A similar but more liberal exemption applies for FUTA, which exempts from federal unemployment tax the earnings paid to a child under age 21 while employed by his or her parent. The FICA and FUTA exemptions also apply if a child is employed by a partnership consisting solely of his or her parents. However, the exemptions do not apply to businesses that are incorporated or a partnership that includes non-parent partners. Even so, there’s no extra cost to your business if you’re paying a child for work that you would pay someone else to do anyway.

If you have questions related to your child’s employment or hiring your child in your business, please give us a call.

Choosing Your Accounting Method Under New Tax Laws

Businesses today must take a closer look at their accounting methods. Since the passage of new tax laws, with changes to thresholds for choosing accounting methods, all companies need to take an inward look at their current accounting methods to determine if they are the most beneficial permissible method applicable. It is important to work closely with accounting professionals here — making changes as well as decisions on how accounting methods need to be updated.

What Is Changing?
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act put into place new laws for a variety of sectors. One key area impacted that many business owners do not immediately consider is accounting. The overall method of accounting and the type of business can be key factors to consider. This tax reform set out to support small business owners and offer key ways to reduce some taxes. It also put into place provisions and accounting method reform with a focus on keeping things simple. Outdated methods of accounting minimized the amount of information shared, but they tend to overcomplicate methods. This is especially true with outdated gross receipt thresholds. Old methods required business owners to use accrual basis accounting which tends to increase overall administrative costs and compliance requirements.

Here is a look at some of the key changes businesses should recognize moving forward.

Limits on Cash Method of Accounting Improved
One key change is the limitation on which businesses can use the cash method of accounting. Previously, companies could not use the cash method of accounting — commonly considered the most natural and more affordable method — as an option if they reached a threshold in revenue. Previously, this method could not be used if the average annual gross receipts for the company were limited to companies with revenue under $10 million, except for the following companies that are that are limited to $1 Million:

  • Retailing (NAICS codes 44 and 45);
  • Wholesaling (NAICS code 42);
  • Manufacturing (NAICS codes 31 – 33);
  • Mining (NAICS codes 211, 212);
  • Publishing (NAICS code 5111); or
  • Sound recording (NAICS code 5112).

The new law changes this. First, it increases the threshold to $25 million. It also indexes this to inflation (meaning it can rise over time due to inflationary measures). Companies who are now able to use this method will note an accounting method change. It will allow the company to recognize ratable taxable income from this change over a period of four years — you do not have to adjust this all at one time. Additionally, any losses are recognized immediately.

Changes in Inventory Accounting
The law also changes Internal Revenue Code Section 263A. These UNICAP rules made for very specific restrictions for business owners. Prior to the changes, the revenue threshold was subject to the UNICAP rules. It requires businesses that maintain an inventory to apply specific costs to their inventory. When this cost is applied, it raises the company’s balance sheet. Overall, it increases the amount of taxable income the company has, therefore making it harder to overcome the threshold.

Now, companies with $25 million in revenue that qualify for the cash method of accounting will be able to note their inventories as non-incidental supplies or materials. Another option is to use their financial accounting treatment for inventories.

Long-Term Contract Changes
Another key area of the law has to do with long-term contracts. Previously, any business with $10 million or less in average annual gross receipts and maintained contracts expected to end within two years were considered small contractors. As a result of this classification, the businesses did not have to use a percentage of completion method of accounting. This helped streamline efforts for the company. The new law still applies for the most part. However, the new law increases that threshold from $10 million up to $25 million. And, it is indexed for inflation. This means more companies — those with revenue under $25 million — now achieve this same benefit.

What Does This Change Mean for You?
As a business owner, it can mean significant changes. When you meet with your accounting professionals, it will be important to look at several things:

  • Do the changes apply to your situation? Any business around the gap of $10 million ($1 Million for certain companies) to $25 million may need to consider the new methods of accounting available to them.
  • Do the changes benefit the company? Choosing the cash method of accounting over the accrual method is often beneficial, but not to all organizations.
  • Does the change require substantial changes to business operations? Though operations may stay the same, tax planning will change.

For these reasons, companies should work closely with accounting professionals to apply the changes under these laws. The law went into effect in December of 2017 – which means it applies to 2018 and beyond. For this reason, it is important to get up to date now. If you have questions or would like to schedule an appointment to discuss your accounting methods, please give us a call.

Big Changes to the Kiddie Tax

Years ago, to prevent parents from transferring their investment accounts into their children’s name to avoid taxes, Congress created what is referred to as the kiddie tax. This counteracted the strategy of taking income from the parents’ higher tax bracket and shifting it to their children’s lower tax bracket.

The kiddie tax plugged that tax loophole by taxing the child’s unearned income (income not from working) at the parent’s top marginal rate.

That has all changed under the new tax reform. Beginning in 2018, children’s tax rates are no longer based upon their parents’ top marginal rates. Congress streamlined the kiddie tax by taxing a child’s unearned income by the capital gain and ordinary income rates that apply to trusts and estates. Thus, the child’s tax is unaffected by the parent’s tax situation or the unearned income of any siblings, while the earned income is taxed using the single tax rates.

Although this will greatly simplify the preparation of a child’s return, there will be losers and winners. One of the big winners will be a child who is employed. Since earned income is taxed at single rates, a working child will benefit from the new higher standard deduction allowing them to make up to $12,000, instead of the previous $6,350 of earned income without any tax.

On the other hand, for those with substantial unearned (investment) income, that income will no longer be subject to the parent’s top tax bracket but instead will be taxed at the rates for estates and trusts, which for 2018 hit 37% at a taxable income of $12,500.

The losers will be children with substantial investment income, which will be taxed at the trust rates, especially children whose parents are in a low tax bracket. Under the old law, a child’s unearned income was taxed at the parents’ top tax bracket, which now may be lower than the fiduciary tax rates.

The kiddie tax applies to children under the age of 18, a child age 18 at the end of the year with earned income less than one half the cost of their support, and full-time students between the ages of 18 and 24, also with earned income less than one half the cost of their support.

Parents with children might consider some of the following investment strategies for their children to avoid the kiddie tax issues:

  • U.S savings bonds – Invest in U.S. savings bonds. Not the best return on investment, but interest can be deferred until the bonds are cashed.
  • Tax-deferred annuities – Invest in tax-deferred annuities. The income can be deferred until the annuity is surrendered.
  • Municipal bonds – Invest in municipal bonds. They generally produce tax-free interest income (which may be taxable to the state).
  • Growth stocks – Invest in stocks that focus more on capital appreciation than current income.
  • Unimproved real estate – Invest in unimproved real estate, which provides appreciation without current income.
  • Family employment – If the family has a business, that family business could employ the child. The child’s earned income is not subject to kiddie tax and will generate a deduction for the family business (assuming the wages are reasonable for the work actually performed). The child’s earned income can offset the standard deduction for a dependent, and the excess income will be taxed at the child’s rate (not the parent’s). In addition, the child would also qualify for an IRA, which provides an additional income shelter.
  • Individual IRA Account – If a child has investment income and earned income, the earned income can be used as a basis for depositing investment funds into an IRA account. Funding an IRA at an early age is perhaps one of the most underused family wealth-building strategies. Generally, a Roth IRA would be preferable for a child with little or no tax liability.
  • Sec. 529 Qualified Tuition Plans – If parents, grandparents, or others want to transfer money to a child, depositing the funds into a Sec. 529 plan will allow the earnings to accumulate tax-deferred, and if used for qualified college expenses, the earnings are withdrawn tax-free.

If you have questions or would like to schedule an appointment to discuss a child’s tax situation and options, please give us a call.

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.

Minimizing Tax on Social Security Benefits

How much (if any) of your Social Security benefits are taxable 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 any reductions due to payments withheld for Medicare premiums). For tax purposes, Social Security benefits are treated the same regardless of whether the benefits are paid due to disability, retirement, or reaching the eligibility age. Supplemental Security Income benefits are not included in these computations because they are not taxable under any circumstance.
  • The taxability of your Social Security benefits 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 if 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 to reduce the income on each return and thus reduce the amount of Social Security income that is subject to tax.
  • The following quick computation can be done to determine if some of your benefits are taxable:
    Step 1. First, add half of your total Social Security benefits to your total other income, including any tax-exempt interest and certain other exclusions* from income.
    Step 2. Then, compare this total to the base amount that is 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.
*These exclusions are as follows: the interest from qualified U.S. savings bonds (used for education expenses), employer-provided adoption benefits, foreign earned income or foreign housing income, and income earned by bona fide residents of American Samoa or Puerto Rico.

When taxpayers can defer their non-Social Security 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 in a given year. 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 (but are not withdrawing enough to reach the Social Security tax threshold) may be missing an opportunity for tax-free withdrawals. Everyone’s circumstances are different, however, and what works for one person 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 us a call.

You May Not Get a Tax Refund Next Year

With all of the tax reform changes and the corresponding reductions in most taxpayers’ income tax withholding, there are serious concerns that the reduction in withholding, although providing more take-home pay now, could end up resulting in unexpected taxes due at tax time next year. For that reason, taxpayers should be overly cautious about their payroll withholding for 2018. One need only look at the W-4 instructions to realize that an individual without any substantial tax training can quickly become lost when filling out the worksheets. It is not business as usual.

What adds to the problem is that many taxpayers count on a refund to pay property taxes, insurance, and other large expenses. The W-4 worksheets are designed to withhold the correct amount of tax with no substantial refund, and many tax practitioners are reporting that clients’ withholdings for 2018 have been reduced to seriously low amounts.

In other years, most taxpayers can look at the tax from their prior year’s return and compare it to their projected payroll withholding to see if their current withholding amount is appropriate. But that’s not the case for 2018, since the tax computation has been substantially altered. Taxpayers with multiple jobs, a working spouse, or complicated returns will find it difficult to adjust their withholding to achieve the desired results.

The same problem exists for retirees with pension income, the difference being that they use a W-4P instead of a W-4.

If you would like us to project your 2018 taxes and suggest how to adjust your payroll withholding so you might achieve the outcome you want, please give us a call.

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.


Cryptocurrencies and Taxes

As our world has become more and more “digital,” it was only a matter of time before cryptocurrencies were developed. One of the first of these virtual currencies was Bitcoin, and the Bitcoin network came online in 2009. Since then, additional cryptocurrencies have been developed.

Cryptocurrencies are generally utilized for transactions by tech-savvy individuals and have a comparable value in real currency or take the place of real currency. These virtual currencies can be purchased with or exchanged into U.S. dollars, euros, and other real or virtual currencies.

Valuation – The value of a virtual currency is based upon market value, i.e., what a willing buyer will pay a willing seller – much like trading in stocks. On February 15, 2018, when this article was written and according to Oanda (an online currency converter), a Bitcoin, one of the more popular virtual currencies, was worth $9,025, and one was worth $995 one year earlier.

It took several years for the IRS to come up with guidance on how to deal to transactions involving virtual currencies. It finally issued Notice 2014-21 determining that virtual currency is treated as property and that the general tax principles applicable to property transactions apply to transactions using virtual currency. This can best be illustrated by example.

Example A: Taxpayer buys Bitcoins (BTC) to use when making online purchases without the need for a credit card. He buys one BTC for $2,425 and later uses it to buy goods (BTC was trading at $2,500 at the time he made his purchase). He has a $75 ($2,500 − $2,425) reportable capital gain. This is the same result that would have occurred if he had sold the BTC at the time of the purchase and used U.S. dollars to purchase the goods. This example points to the complicated record-keeping requirement to track BTC’s basis. Since this transaction was personal in nature, no loss would be allowed if the value of BTC had been less than $2,425 at the time when the goods were purchased.

Example B: Taxpayer buys Bitcoin (BTC) as an investment. The same rules apply as for stock transactions. Gains are taxable in the year realized, and any resulting loss, when combined with the other capital transactions for the year, are limited to $3,000 ($1,500 if a married taxpayer filing separate).

Character of the Gain or Loss – The character of the gain or loss generally depends on whether the virtual currency is a capital asset in the hands of the taxpayer. A taxpayer generally realizes capital gain or loss on the sale or exchange of virtual currency that is held as a capital asset. For example, stocks, bonds, and other investment property are generally capital assets. A taxpayer generally realizes ordinary gain or loss on the sale or exchange of virtual currency that he or she does not hold as a capital asset. Inventory and other property held mainly for sale to customers in a trade or business are examples of property that is not a capital asset.

Foreign Currency Transactions – Under currently applicable law, virtual currency is not treated as currency that could generate foreign currency gain or loss for U.S. federal tax purposes.

Foreign Bank and Financial Account (FBAR) Reporting – The IRS has stated a few years ago that virtual currency transactions need not be reported for purposes of Foreign Bank and Financial Account (FBAR) reporting. But the IRS cautioned that its position could change in the future. However, the IRS has not issued any announcements regarding a change in its position on FBAR filings for years through 2017.

Payment for Goods & Services – A taxpayer subject to U.S. taxation who receives virtual currency as payment for goods or services must, in computing gross business income, include the fair market value of the virtual currency, measured in U.S. dollars, as of the date that the virtual currency was received.

Acquiring Virtual Currency – One can go to online exchanges and purchase virtual currency. But care should be taken to make sure the exchange is reputable. Once you have the virtual currency in your online wallet, you are free to spend it with anyone who accepts that form of currency.

Virtual Currency Mining – Mining is a term used to describe how cryptographic information distributed within a virtual currency network is secured, authorized, and approved. In essence, it is the processing of payments that have taken place once they occur. It takes the place of banks, merchants’ accounts, and clearing houses like Visa. It essentially eliminates all of the third parties’ cuts of income from the transaction. It involves complex mathematical logarithms that need to be solved, and the mining process completes this task autonomously. For individuals who mine virtual currency, it is a trade or business, and they are subject to self-employment tax.

Apparently, virtual currency miners are also subject to Form 1099-K filing requirements if their transactions rise to the reporting threshold. In general, a third party that contracts with a substantial number of unrelated merchants to settle payments between the merchants and their customers is a third-party settlement organization (TPSO). A TPSO is required to report payments made to a merchant on a Form 1099-K, Payment Card and Third-Party Network Transactions. If, for the calendar year, both (1) the number of transactions settled for the merchant exceeds 200 and (2) the gross amount of payments made to the merchant exceeds $20,000, then 1099-K filing is required.

Employee Payments – If an employee is paid in virtual currency, then the fair market value of the virtual currency, measured in U.S. dollars, paid as wages is subject to federal income tax withholding, Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax (Social Security and Medicare A), and Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) tax and must be reported on Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. The U.S. government doesn’t accept virtual currency for tax payments.

Independent Contractor Payments – The fair market value of virtual currency received for services performed as an independent contractor, measured in U.S. dollars as of the date of receipt, constitutes self-employment income to the independent contractor and is subject to the self-employment tax. Payments are subject to the normal 1099-MISC reporting requirement when the payments for the year measured in U.S. dollars are $600 or more.

IRS Enforcement Actions – Because fewer than 900 taxpayers reported virtual currency gains and losses each year on their tax returns from 2013 to 2015, the IRS is stepping up enforcement of the rules. Recently, the IRS won a court’s approval for a summons to obtain account and transaction information on more than 14,000 customers from Coinbase, a company that services buyers and sellers of Bitcoins. Based on the success in the Coinbase case, the IRS will likely expand its efforts to obtain information about cryptocurrency account owners from other companies dealing in Bitcoins and similar virtual currencies.

Also, beginning with 2018 returns, Sec. 1031 tax-deferred exchanges will only apply to real property; thus, investors in virtual currency who trade one type of virtual currency for another will be required to report their capital gains/losses and won’t be able to use the 1031 tax-deferral rules.

If you are investing, trading, or dealing in virtual currency and have any questions about how those activities will affect your tax situation, please give us a call.