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.

Kiddie Tax No Longer Based on Parents’ Tax Rate

Some years back, it was not uncommon for parents to put their investments in their dependent children’s names to take advantage of their children’s lower tax rates. Although the Uniform Gift to Minors Act legally made a child the owner of money put into his or her name, this didn’t stop parents from routinely putting their child’s name and social security number on the accounts so that the tax would be determined at the child’s lower marginal rate.

The IRS had no easy way to combat parents taking advantage of their children’s lower tax rates, so Congress came up with a unique way of taxing children’s investment income (unearned income) such as interest, dividends and capital gains. When this law was originally passed over 30 years ago, it only applied to children under age 14, but Congress expanded it over time to include children with unearned income under the age of 19 and full-time students under the age of 24 who aren’t self-supporting.

The way it worked prior to the 2017 tax reform, the first $1,050 of a child’s income was tax-free, the next $1,050 was taxed at just 10% and any unearned income above $2,100 was taxed at his or her parents’ higher tax rate. A child’s earned income (generally income from wages) was taxed at the single rate, and the child could use the regular standard deduction for single individuals ($6,350 in 2017) to reduce his or her taxable earned income. The computation got more complicated when the child’s siblings also had unearned income.

With tax reform, for years 2018 through 2025, the first $2,100 of the child’s unearned income is being taxed as before, with the first $1,050 being tax-free and the next $1,050 being taxed at 10%. However, instead of the balance being taxed at the parents’ tax rate, the balance is taxed at the income tax rates for estates and trusts, which for 2018 hits 37% when the balance of the unearned income reaches $12,500. The income tax rates for trusts and estates are illustrated below.

2018 Federal Tax Rate Schedule – Estates & Trusts
If the taxable income is: The tax is:
Over But not over Of the amount over
$0
$2,550
10%
$0
2,550
9,150
$255.00 + 24%
2,550
9,150
12,500
1,839.00 + 35%
9,150
12,500
3,011.50 + 37%
12,500

On the bright side, tax reform increased the standard deduction for singles to $12,000 (2018), meaning that a child can make up to $12,000 of earned income tax-free. The standard deduction is inflation adjusted for future years.

Uncoupling the child’s return from the parents’ return also solved another problem. If a child had taxable unearned income, they previously would have to wait for the parents’ return to be prepared to know what the parents’ top tax rate was before the child’s return could be prepared. It was not uncommon for young adults, in a rush for their tax refund, to jump the gun and file their own return while ignoring the kiddie tax rules, only to have to amend their returns. That is no longer the case.

If you have questions, 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.

Clergy Tax Benefits Under Fire

Section 107 of the Internal Revenue Code provides that a minister of the gospel’s gross income doesn’t include the rental value of a home (parsonage) provided; if the home itself isn’t provided, a rental allowance paid as part of compensation for ministerial services is excludable. The benefit is generally referred to as a parsonage allowance. Thus, a minister can exclude the fair rental value (FRV) of the parsonage from income under IRC Sec. 107(1), or the rental allowance under Sec. 107(2), for income tax purposes. The Sec. 107(2) rental allowance is excludable only to the extent that it is for expenses such as rent, mortgage payments, utilities, repairs, etc., used in providing the minister’s main home, and only up to the amount of the FRV of the home.

However, either type of parsonage allowance is only excludable for income tax purposes and is subject to self-employment taxes, although for years before 2018 and after 2025, the amount subject to self-employment tax can be reduced by the minister of the gospel’s employee business expenses.

Back in October 6, 2017, in the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, Judge Barbara B. Crabb, in Gaylor v. Mnuchin (the treasury secretary), concluded that Section 107(2) of the Internal Revenue Code is unconstitutional. Specifically, she concluded that this code section violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it does not have a secular purpose or effect and because a reasonable observer would view the statute as being an endorsement of religion.

The code section under judicial fire is the part of code Sec. 107 allowing churches and other religious organizations the ability to provide tax-free housing to their ordained ministers, even though the housing is not provided in kind by the church or the religious organization. This provision of the code was envisioned to provide ministers of the gospel with modest tax-free housing. However, it contains no limitations on its application and, as a result, also applies to:

  • Televangelists like Joel Osteen, who uses this tax provision to live tax-free in his multi-million dollar mansion.
  • Other ordained ministers working in church-affiliated schools as teachers and administrators who also benefit from the provision.

It has been estimated that the government foregoes in excess of $800 million in tax revenues because of the provision.

Judge Crabb, in issuing her decision, directed the parties to file supplemental materials regarding what additional remedies are appropriate, if any. The judge subsequently stayed injunctive relief until 180 days after the final resolution of all appeals. The additional time will allow Congress, the IRS and affected individuals and organizations to adjust to the substantial change. This case will certainly be appealed to the circuit court and eventually to the Supreme Court. So, we will need to keep our eyes on this case and see how it plays out in the long run.

It should be emphasized that Sec. 107(1), which permits an amount equal to the rental value of a parsonage furnished to a minister as part of his or her compensation to be excluded from income, is not affected by Judge Crabb’s ruling; thus, this benefit continues to be income-tax free.

Ministers of the gospel will also feel one of the negative aspects of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act of 2017 (aka tax reform), which suspended the deduction for employee business expenses. Thus, beginning in 2018 and through 2025, ministers of the gospel will no longer be able to reduce the amount of their housing allowance by their employee business expenses when computing their self-employment taxes.

If you have questions related to taxation issues for ministers of the gospel, please call us.

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.


A Mid-Year Tax Checkup May Be Appropriate

Taxes are similar to vehicles, in that they sometimes need a check-up to make sure they are performing as expected. That is especially true for 2018, with all of the changes brought about by tax reform.

One area of major concern is the amount of taxes individuals are withholding from their wages. Tax reform was passed late in 2017, and there was a considerable amount of confusion among employers related to the amount of taxes to withhold in 2018. It took the IRS a couple of months to come out with a revised Form W-4 (Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate) and withholding tables, and even then, there were concerns about whether the revised and more complicated W-4s were being filled out correctly by employees and whether the revised W-4s were actually being submitted to employers at all. The IRS has even been issuing notices cautioning taxpayers to be sure they are withholding enough.

While most people will see an overall tax reduction as a result of the tax reforms, the amount of their refund or tax due hinges on the amount of pre-payments, which include withholding and estimated tax payments. All this confusion related to withholding can lead to unpleasant surprises at tax time. If you count on a refund each year, it might be appropriate to have this office run a mid-year tax projection to ensure that the projected refund will be as expected.

This is also true for retirees receiving pensions and Social Security benefits and for self-employed taxpayers who are making pre-payments via estimated taxes. You obviously do not want to pay too much and generally don’t want to end up with a huge tax liability. A mid-year check-up will allow adjustments to the 3rd- and 4th-quarter estimated tax payments so that the end result will be as desired.

Married couples with two working spouses, individuals with multiple jobs and situations in which taxpayers are both wage earners and self-employed cause the most difficulty in getting the prepayments correct. If you would like a mid-year projection and withholding check-up, please call for an appointment.

There are a number of other circumstances that can impact your taxes, and you probably should not wait until tax time to see the results. You could even be missing opportunities to decrease your prepayments and obtain more cash flow. With mid-year tax planning, you may be able to take steps to mitigate the tax impact of certain events and thus avoid unpleasant surprises before it is too late to address them. Here are some events that can significantly impact your tax liability:

  • Getting married or divorced, or becoming widowed
  • Changing jobs or your spouse starting to work
  • Having a substantial increase or decrease in income
  • Having a substantial gain from the sale of stocks or bonds
  • Buying or selling a rental
  • Starting, acquiring, or selling a business
  • Buying or selling a main or vacation home
  • Retiring or going to retire this year
  • Being the beneficiary of an inheritance
  • Giving birth to or adopting a child
  • Making significant business purchases
  • Having substantial investment income or gains from the sale of investment assets
  • Making unplanned withdrawals from an IRA or pension plan

If you anticipate or have already encountered any of the above events or conditions, it may be appropriate to consult with us—preferably before the event and definitely before the end of the year.

Taxpayers Find Gift Tax Reporting Confusing

Gift taxes were created to prevent wealthy taxpayers from transferring their estates to their beneficiaries via gifts and thus avoid estate taxes when they pass away. But that does not mean only wealthy taxpayers need to be concerned with the gift tax provisions as, under many circumstances, even lower-income taxpayers may find they are liable for filing a gift tax return.

The government uses the gift tax return to keep a perpetual record of a taxpayer’s gifts during their lifetime, and gifts exceeding the amount that is annually exempt from the gift tax reduce the taxpayer’s lifetime estate tax exclusion, which is currently $11.18 million (nearly a two-fold increase from the 2017 exclusion as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017).

So what does this have to do with me you ask, since your estate is significantly less than $11.18 million? Well, your estate may be less than $11.18 million now, but what will it be when you pass away? You never know. Another concern is that the IRS requires individuals to file gift tax returns if their gifts while living exceed the annual exemption amount.

Annual Gift Tax Exemption – Under the gift tax rules, there is an annual amount that is exempt from the gift tax, which allows each taxpayer to give up to the specified amount each year to as many individuals as they would like without having to file a gift tax return or pay any gift tax. The annual amount is inflation adjusted, and for 2018 that amount is $15,000 (up from $14,000 in 2017). The recipients of the gifts do not need to be related to the person making the gift.

Example 1: A taxpayer with four children can gift $15,000 to each child for a total of $60,000 without having to file a gift tax return. If the taxpayer is married, each spouse can gift $15,000 to each child, for a total for the couple of $120,000, without having to file a gift tax return.

Example 2: A single taxpayer has one child, a son. In 2018, he gives the son $20,000 to use for a down payment on a home he is purchasing. Because the gift was more than $15,000, the taxpayer needs to file a gift tax return. As long as the amount of the cumulative gifts made by the taxpayer during his lifetime that have exceeded the annual gift tax exclusion amounts in the current and other gifting years is less than $11,180,000, the generous dad won’t be liable for any gift tax on his 2018 gift tax return.

Additional Exclusions – In addition to the annual exemption amount, a donor may make gifts that are totally excluded from the gift tax and gift tax reporting under the following circumstances:

  • Payments made directly to an educational institution for tuition (payments to Sec 529 qualified state tuition saving plans are not direct). This exclusion includes college and private primary education but does not include books or room and board.
  • Payments made directly to any person or entity providing medical care for the donee (recipient).

In these cases, it is crucial that the payments be made directly to the educational institution or health care provider. Reimbursement paid to the donee will not qualify for the exclusion. The tuition/medical exclusion is often overlooked, and these expenses can be quite significant. Parents, grandparents, and others interested in reducing the value of their estate should strongly consider these gifts.

Please give us a call if you have questions.

The Most Common Accounting Mistakes Small Business Owners Make and How to Avoid Them

Most small business owners are an expert in their field, but not necessarily in the accounting aspects of building a business. And, with this comes a few common mistakes. Yet, even simple small business accounting mistakes can prove to be financially limiting and costly down the road. With the help of an accounting professional, it is possible to overcome at least some of these mistakes. Take a look at some of the most common mistakes and how to avoid them.

#1: Choosing the Right Accounting Software for My Business
You’ve purchased small business accounting software. You assume it will be ideally matched to your business and easy enough to jump into. It’s not. The problem is, each business requires a carefully selected and even customized accounting method. There are always risks related to regulatory compliance when the wrong accounting software is used or information is overlooked.

To resolve this, work with a professional that listens to your needs, learns about your business, and modifies your bookkeeping methods to meet your goals.

#2: Your Business Has Poor Organization and Recordkeeping
It’s quite common for small business owners to lack the time and skills to effectively manage small business recordkeeping and bookkeeping. There’s much to do and it takes time away from your business. And, there are dozens of apps and cloud accounting options present. Which do you use?

The good news is all of those options are a good thing. It means there are no longer excuses for not getting your business organized. With a bit of help, it is possible to set up a system that streamlines your business operations.

#3: Cash Flow Versus Profit-Loss Statement
Many small businesses are making money on paper, but they end up going under if their float to getting paid is too long. This is financially limiting and stunts your growth as well.

It’s important to understand how this impacts your business. Cash flow is a critical component of any business operation — it determines how much you end up borrowing and paying for, too. Learn the best methods for managing cash flow.

#4: Not Understanding Standard Accounting Procedures and Terminology
Many small business owners don’t understand key business accounting terms and procedures. What does setting up controls mean? What about bank reconciliation? What are your balance sheets and when are they updated? Profit and loss statements are filled with very specific terminology you need to get right.

It’s possible to learn these terms and methods on your own. There’s plenty of information available. However, it takes time to learn it all. More importantly, you may find applying specific procedures and tax laws to your business challenging. To overcome this, work with a tax professional you can depend on.

#5: The Small Business Budget
A budget provides financial insight. It offers guidance to you about where your business is right now and what your goals are. That’s because a budget — which many small business owners lack — creates key goals for your company to manage. Flying blind, on the other hand, is a common small business mistake.

Creating a budget takes some time and a good amount of dedication. Once it is in place, it can be modified each month to meet current needs. Software is available to help with this, but an accounting professional is also an option.

#6: Too Much DIY
To be frank, one of the biggest mistakes small business owners make is simply trying to save money by doing it themselves. Yes, it is true this will cut your accounting costs, but it also creates a scenario in which you have absolutely no control over “what you don’t know.” In other words, just because you can enter it doesn’t mean you should.

Working with a bookkeeping and accounting service capable of handling these tasks for you is the best option. In nearly every situation, these services will work to save you money, far overlapping any DIY savings you are creating.

#7: Lack of Tax Planning
Taxes are not something you should do just one time a year. Year-long tax planning for small businesses is necessary. It’s not just important to pay your taxes, but also to plan for them and plan for savings options.

If you lack a tax planning strategy, work to improve this by simply working with a tax professional. Create a plan for ways you can invest and cut your tax burden.

#8: Lack of Modernization
Are you still balancing your books using pen and paper? It is no longer considered ideal to do so. Yet, many small business owners see the investment in modernization and cloud accounting to be too costly. In fact, moving to a digital accounting system is likely to save you time and money. It doesn’t have to be challenging to implement this system either.

#9: Not Realizing True Profit and Loss
You may have a profit and loss sheet, but you may not have a lot of insight into what each line means. More so, you may not know enough about methods for reducing costs or viewing profit potential.

The investment in an accounting service can alleviate this. We are happy to talk to you about methods to save you money or boost your profit margins with simple changes to your methods.

Most small business accounting mistakes come from a lack of insight into the industry. The good news is solutions are available to help you overcome nearly all of them. Please call us if you have any questions.

Is an Inheritance Taxable?

A frequent question is whether inheritances are taxable. This is a frequently misunderstood question related to taxation and can be complicated. When someone passes away, all of their assets will be subject to inheritance taxation, and whatever is left over after paying the inheritance tax passes to the decedent’s beneficiaries.

Sound bleak? Don’t worry, very few decedents’ estates ever pay any inheritance tax, primarily because the code exempts a liberal amount of the estate from taxation; thus, only very large estates are subject to inheritance tax. In fact, with the passage of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (tax reform), the estate tax deduction has been increased to $11,180,000* for 2018 and is inflation adjusted in future years. That generally means that estates valued at $11,180,000* or less will not pay any federal estate taxes and those in excess of the exemption amount only pay inheritance tax on amounts in excess of the exemption amount. Of interest, there are less than 10,000 deaths each year for which the decedent’s estate exceeds the exemption amount, so for most estates, there will be no estate tax and the beneficiaries will generally inherit the entire estate.

* Note that, as with anything tax-related, the exemption is not always a fixed amount. It must be reduced by prior gifts in excess of the annual gift exemption, and it can be increased for a surviving spouse by the decedent’s unused exemption amount.

Because the value of an estate is based upon the fair market value (FMV) of the assets owned by the decedent on the date of their death (or in some cases, an alternative valuation date six months after the decedent’s date of death, which is rarely used), the beneficiaries will generally receive the inherited assets, with a basis equal to the same FMV determined for the estate. What this means to a beneficiary is if they sell an inherited asset, they will measure their gain or loss from the inherited basis (FMV and date of death).

Example #1: Joe inherits shares of XYZ Corporation from his father. Because XYZ Corporation is a publically traded stock, the FMV can be determined by what it is trading for on the stock market. Thus, if the inherited basis was $40 per share and the shares are later sold for $50 a share, the beneficiary will have a taxable gain of $10 ($50 – $40) per share. In addition, the gain will be a long-term capital gain, since all inherited assets are treated as being held long-term by the beneficiary. On the flip side, if the shares are sold for $35 a share, the beneficiary would have a loss of $5 per share.

Example #2: Joe inherits his father’s home. Like other inherited property, Joe’s basis is the FMV of the home on the date of his father’s death. However, unlike the stock, whose FMV could be determined from the trading value, the home needs to be appraised to determine its FMV. It is highly recommended that a certified appraiser do the appraisal. This is something that is frequently overlooked and can cause some problems if the IRS challenges the amount used for the basis.

This FMV valuation of inherited assets is frequently referred to as a step-up in basis, which is really a misnomer because the FMV can, under some circumstances, also be a step-down in basis.

If the decedent was married at the time of death and resided in a community property state, and if the property was held by the couple as community property, the beneficiary spouse will generally receive a 100% basis equal to the FMV of the property, even though the spouse will have only inherited the deceased spouse’s share.

Not all inherited assets received by the beneficiary fall under the FMV regime. If the decedent held assets that included deferred untaxed income, those assets will be taxable to the beneficiary. Examples of those include inherited:

  • Traditional IRA Accounts – These are taxable to the beneficiaries, but the special rules generally allow a beneficiary to spread the income over five years or take it over their lifetime.
  • Roth IRAs – Qualified distributions are not taxable to the beneficiary.
  • Compensation – Amounts received after the decedent’s death as compensation for his or her personal services.
  • Pension Payments – These are generally taxable to the beneficiary.
  • Installment Sales – Whoever receives an installment obligation as a result of the seller’s death is taxed on the installment payments the same as the seller would have been, had the seller lived to receive the payments.

This is just an overview of issues related to being the beneficiary of an inheritance. If you have questions related to the tax ramifications of a potential or actual inheritance, please give us a call.

Credit for Family and Medical Leave Benefits

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that was passed last year included a new tax credit for employers that allows them to claim a credit based on wages paid to qualifying employees while they are on family and medical leave.

To qualify for the credit, an employer must have a written policy that provides at least two weeks of paid family and medical leave annually to all qualifying employees who work full time, which can be prorated for part-time. The wages paid during the leave period cannot be less than 50 percent of what the employee is normally paid.

The credit is variable. It begins at 12.5% and increases by 0.25%, up to a maximum of 25%, for each percentage point that the rate of payment exceeds 50% of the employee’s normal pay.

Example: ABC, Inc. has qualifying written policy to pay an employee 70% of their normal wage while on family or medical leave. The rate of 70% is 20 percentage points above the 50% credit threshold. Thus the credit is increased by 5% (.25 x 20), which when added to the base credit of 12.5% results in a credit percentage of 17.5% (12.5% plus 5%). Assuming the total leave wages paid for the year were $15,000, the credit would be $2,625 (.175 x $15,000).

A qualifying employee for this credit is any employee who has been employed for one year or more and who had compensation that did not exceed a specified amount for the preceding year. For 2018, the employee must not have earned more than $72,000 in 2017. Thus leave benefits for higher income taxpayers will not qualify for this credit.

For the purposes of this credit, “family and medical leave” is leave for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Birth of an employee’s child and to care for the newborn.
  • Placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care.
  • Care for the employee’s spouse, child or parent who has a serious health condition.
  • A serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of his or her position.
  • Any qualifying event due to an employee’s spouse, child or parent being on covered active duty — or being called to duty — in the Armed Forces.
  • Care for a service member who is the employee’s spouse, child, parent or next of kin.

The credit only applies to qualified leave wages paid to a qualifying employee for up to 12 weeks per taxable year, and the employer must reduce its deduction for wages or salaries paid or incurred by the amount determined as a credit. Any wages taken into account in determining any other general business credit may not be used toward this credit.

CAUTION – CREDIT TIME LIMITED
The credit is generally only effective for wages paid in taxable years of the employer beginning after December 31, 2017. It is not available for wages paid in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2019

The credit is part of the general business credit, where business incentive credits are combined into one “general business credit” for purposes of determining each credit’s allowance limitation for the tax year. A general business credit is generally limited to the taxpayer’s tax liability for the year (excluding self-employment tax), and any excess over the tax liability is carried back one year and forward 20 years. “Carrying back” means, in most instances, amending the return of the year to which the credit is carried; if no return was filed for that year, then the carryback credit would be claimed on an original late-filed return for that year.

If you have any questions relating to this credit, please give us a call.