IRA Missteps to Avoid

If you have an IRA account or are considering one, there are a number of potential missteps you will want to avoid. Some of them can lead to unwanted taxes and penalties, and of course, we are talking about your retirement funding, so it is an important issue. Here are a number of issues to keep in mind:

Selecting a Type of IRA Account – The first decision you will have to make is whether to choose a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. A traditional IRA provides a tax deduction for the contribution and tax-deferred growth, but any withdrawal from the account is fully taxable. On the other hand, Roth IRA contributions are not deductible, but distributions after retirement are tax-free. A Roth IRA offers tax-free accumulation, meaning the earnings build up over the life of the IRA tax-free. Making the decision involves a number of factors, some of which will be discussed later in this article.

For those currently with low income and on a limited budget with little extra income to spare for IRA contributions, the traditional IRA offers a tax deduction, which will allow them to make a larger contribution and is better than having no retirement funds at all. In addition, lower-income individuals may qualify for the Saver’s Credit, discussed later, which provides a tax credit that might help them to afford a contribution.

For younger individuals, a Roth IRA provides tax-free accumulation, meaning the earnings will be tax-free when distributed at retirement. Thus, the longer one has a Roth IRA, the more tax-free income it can provide.

Missing out on the Saver’s Credit – As mentioned previously, the Saver’s Credit helps lower-income individuals to save for retirement by providing a credit to help cover the cost of their IRA contribution. The credit can be as much as 50% of the first $2,000 contributed to an IRA (either traditional or Roth), depending upon your income for the year. It is not allowed for individuals under the age of 18, individuals claimed as dependents of another or full-time students. The credit is non-refundable, meaning it can only be used to offset one’s tax liability, so lower-income taxpayers may not have enough tax to benefit.

Taking Distributions before Retirement Age – If a distribution is taken from a traditional IRA before reaching the age of 59½, that distribution will not only be taxable but will also be subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty. So, consider it carefully before taking an early distribution. Assuming you are in the 22% tax bracket, every $100 of an early distribution will result in you owing $32 of tax, including the penalty. Only take an early distribution if you are desperate. There are exceptions to the 10% early withdrawal penalty, but not for the tax on the early distributions. The common penalty exceptions include limited withdrawals for a home purchase, medical expenses, disability and higher education expenses.

Failure to Keep Designated Beneficiaries Current – A number of life events can change who you want to be the beneficiary of your IRA account when you pass. Divorce and the death of a beneficiary are probably the most common, but regardless of the reason, it is important to keep your IRA trustee or custodian apprised about the current names of your beneficiaries, or else the account could end up in the hands of someone you didn’t want it to be.

Overlooking the Spousal IRA – You may not be aware, but a non-working spouse can also make an IRA contribution based upon the working spouse’s income. The amount that can be contributed is the smaller of the annual IRA contribution limit or the working spouse’s compensation less any IRA contribution made by the working spouse. Contributions to spousal IRAs do not need to be divided equally between spouses, but neither spouse may make a contribution of more than the annual limit. The deduction for contributions to both spouses’ IRAs may be further limited if either spouse is covered by an employer’s retirement plan.

Failing to Recognize Low Tax Distribution Opportunities – Occasionally, a taxpayer will have an abnormally low-income year, or the individual’s deductions will be abnormally high, resulting in a negative or very low taxable income. When this occurs, traditional IRA distributions by those age 59½ or older can be taken with little or a minor tax liability. Because the distribution must be taken before the end of the year, the key is to recognize this possibility, determine how much of a withdrawal will provide the best result and then take the distribution before year’s end.

Also low-income taxable years can provide an opportunity to convert some portion of a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA with minimal or no tax liability.

Social Security Income and Traditional IRA Distributions – If you are retired and drawing Social Security, remember that Social Security income does not become taxable until one-half of the Social Security income plus your other income exceeds $32,000 for a married couple, or $25,000 for most other filing statuses. Even if you don’t need the funds from an IRA distribution, it may be appropriate for you to withdraw enough from your IRA (or other qualified plans) so that your overall income closely matches the taxable Social Security threshold. Then, you can put those withdrawals away for a future major expense item or unexpected financial liability and avoid a large distribution in one year that would cause the SS to be taxed.

Rollover Errors – You are allowed to take a distribution from your IRA accounts, and the distribution won’t be taxable if the same amount is returned to your IRA within 60 days. However, you are allowed only one tax-free rollover in a 12-month period. So, unless you need the funds for just a short period, it is always best to arrange for a trustee-to-trustee transfer, for which there is no frequency limit, when you want to move IRA funds from one IRA to another.

Failing to Take a Required Minimum Distribution – If you have a traditional IRA, you must begin taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your IRA once you reach age 70½. Failure to do so can result in a penalty equal to 50% of the amount that should have been distributed. Luckily, at least so far, the IRS has been very liberal about waiving that penalty for almost any reasonable excuse when a request is made.

You can take out as much as you like each year, but it cannot be less than the RMD. If you withdraw more than the RMD, the excess can’t be applied to the following year’s RMD. The RMD amount for any year is the balance of your non-Roth IRA accounts on December 31 of the prior year divided by your remaining life expectancy. The remaining life expectancy is based upon the Uniform Lifetime Table, which appears in IRS Publication 590-B.

There is no requirement for the owner of a Roth IRA to take distributions, but the distribution requirements apply to the beneficiary of a Roth account after the owner passes away.

Understanding the Beneficiary Options – Beneficiaries of a traditional IRA where the decedent had already begun taking RMDs will also be subject to an RMD requirement, even if the beneficiary’s age is less than 70½ years. They must begin taking RMDs over the longer of the deceased owner’s life expectancy or the beneficiary’s remaining life expectancy. If there are multiple beneficiaries, the age of the oldest is used in the determination (but see the section on dividing an inherited IRA later). As an option, a beneficiary may elect to take the entire account at any time before the end of the fifth year following the year of the owner’s death.

If the decedent had not yet begun taking RMDs, the beneficiary can choose either to take the five-year payout or begin taking distributions over their lifetime. For lifetime payouts, the distributions must begin no later than Dec. 31 of the calendar year immediately following the calendar year during which the IRA owner died.

Knowing an Inherited IRA Can Be Divided – When an IRA has multiple beneficiaries, conflicting interests can arise. One beneficiary may want the money all up front, while another one may want to spread it out over time. There can also be conflicting investment strategies. In addition, the distribution period is determined using the oldest beneficiary’s age, which accelerates the payout. These conflicts can be avoided by dividing the account. The law allows an IRA to be divided into separate accounts for each beneficiary, thus giving each the opportunity to select the option that best suits his or her particular circumstances.

Understanding the Special Spousal Beneficiary Option – Spouse beneficiaries not only have the same options as other beneficiaries but also have the irrevocable option to treat the inherited IRA as their own, which is accomplished by re-titling the deceased spouse’s IRA or simply transferring the IRA balance to the surviving spouse’s own IRA. A surviving spouse may also be deemed as having elected to treat the IRA as his or her own if he or she fails to take RMDs as a beneficiary within the applicable deadline or if the surviving spouse makes contributions to the IRA.

Disclaiming an Inherited IRA – If you, as a beneficiary, do not want to inherit an IRA for some reason, the law allows a designated beneficiary to disclaim an inherited IRA and permits the naming of a new beneficiary by the executor of the estate.

Realizing Your Child Can Have an IRA – It may not even occur to parents or grandparents that if a child has income from working (earned income), they can contribute to an IRA. There is no minimum age requirement for establishing and contributing to an IRA. With the tax reform’s new higher standard deduction of $12,000 (2018) for singles, most children won’t even owe any taxes from their part-time or summer jobs, so the obvious choice for starting a retirement program for a child would be to contribute to a Roth IRA. However, most youngsters will balk at the idea, since retirement is the furthest thing from their minds at this stage of their life, and they will have other spending plans for their hard-earned money.

This is where parents, grandparents or others with the financial means can step in and gift the child the money to make an IRA contribution. The child’s contribution is limited to the lesser of their earned income or $5,500, the maximum contribution allowed for IRAs in 2018. Think what that Roth IRA contribution would be worth after 50 years of tax-free earnings accumulation.

Taking Advantage of IRA-to-Charity Distributions – Taxpayers age 70.5 and older can directly transfer up to $100,000 a year from their IRA to a qualified charity. They won’t get a charitable deduction, but instead – and even better – they will not have to pay taxes on the distribution, and because their AGI will be lower, they will benefit from other tax provisions that are pegged to AGI, such as the amount of Social Security income that’s taxable and the cost of Medicare B insurance premiums for higher-income taxpayers. As an additional bonus, the transfer also counts toward their annual required minimum distribution. If you want to take advantage of this tax benefit, be sure the transfer from your IRA to the qualified charity is a direct transfer from the IRA trustee to the charitable organization and that you get the required acknowledgment from the organization to substantiate the deduction.

If you have questions related to IRAs or the issues discussed, please give us a call.

Do You Need to Renew Your ITIN?

The IRS has announced that more than 2 million Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) are set to expire at the end of 2018. An ITIN is a nine-digit number issued by the IRS to individuals who are required for U.S. federal tax purposes to have a U.S. taxpayer identification number but who do not have and are not eligible to get a Social Security number (SSN).

Failure to renew an ITIN in a timely manner can delay one’s ability to file a tax return, and with 2.7 million expected ITIN renewals, acting now to renew ITIN numbers will help taxpayers avoid delays that could affect their tax filing and refunds in 2019.

Under the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, ITINs that have not been used on a federal tax return at least once in the last three consecutive years, as well as ITINs with specified middle digits (see below), will expire on Dec. 31, 2018. These affected taxpayers who expect to file a tax return in 2019 must submit a renewal application as soon as possible.

Who Needs to Renew Their ITIN?

  • Taxpayers whose ITIN is expiring or whose ITIN includes the middle digits listed below and who need to file a tax return in 2019 must submit a Form W-7 renewal application. ITINs with the middle digits 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 81 or 82 (for example: 9NN-73-NNNN) need to be renewed even if the taxpayer has used it in the last three years. Other ITIN holders do not need to take any action. The IRS has begun sending the CP-48 Notice, “You Must Renew Your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to File Your U.S. Tax Return,” in early summer to affected taxpayers. The notice explains the steps to take to renew the ITIN if it will be included on a U.S. tax return filed in 2019. Taxpayers who receive this notice after taking action to renew their ITIN do not need to take further action, unless another family member is affected.
  • ITINs with middle digits of 70, 71, 72, 78, 79 or 80 have previously expired. Taxpayers with these ITINs who haven’t previously gone through the renewal process can still renew at any time.
  • Spouses or dependents residing inside the United States should renew their ITINs. However, spouses and dependents residing outside the United States do not need to renew their ITINs unless they anticipate being claimed for a tax benefit (for example, after they move to the United States) or unless they file their own tax return. That’s because the deduction for personal exemptions has been suspended for tax years 2018 through 2025 by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Consequently, spouses or dependents outside the United States who would have been claimed for this personal exemption benefit and no other benefit do not need to renew their ITINs this year.

Family Renewal Option – Taxpayers with an ITIN that has middle digits 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 81 or 82, as well as all previously expired ITINs, have the option to renew ITINs for their entire family at the same time. Those who have received a renewal letter from the IRS can choose to renew their family’s ITINs together, even if family members have an ITIN with middle digits that have not been identified as expiring. Family members include the tax filer, the filer’s spouse and any dependents claimed on the tax return.

How to Renew an ITIN – To renew an ITIN, a taxpayer must complete a Form W-7 and submit all required documentation. Taxpayers submitting a Form W-7 to renew their ITIN are not required to attach a federal tax return. However, taxpayers must still note a reason for needing an ITIN on the Form W-7. See the Form W-7 instructions for detailed information.

There are three ways to submit the W-7 application package. Taxpayers can:

  • Mail the Form W-7, along with original identification documents or copies certified by the agency that issued them, to the IRS address listed on Form W-7’s instructions. The IRS will review the identification documents and return them within 60 days.
  • Work with Certified Acceptance Agents (CAAs) authorized by the IRS to help taxpayers apply for an ITIN. CAAs can authenticate all identification documents for primary and secondary taxpayers, verify that an ITIN application is correct before submitting it to the IRS for processing and authenticate the passports and birth certificates of dependents. This saves taxpayers from mailing original documents to the IRS.
  • In advance, call and make an appointment at a designated IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center to have each applicant’s identity authenticated in person, instead of mailing original identification documents to the IRS. Applicants should bring a completed Form W-7 along with all required identification documents. See the TAC ITIN authentication page on the IRS website for more details.

Avoid Common Errors and Delays Next Year – Federal tax returns that are submitted in 2019 with an expired ITIN will be processed. However, certain tax credits and any exemptions will be disallowed. Taxpayers will receive a notice in the mail advising them of the change to their tax return and of their need to renew their ITIN. Once the ITIN is renewed, applicable credits and exemptions will be restored, and any refunds will be issued.

Additionally, several common errors can slow down and hold up some ITIN renewal applications. These mistakes generally center on missing information or insufficient supporting documentation, such as for name changes. The IRS urges any applicant to check over their form carefully before sending it to the IRS.

As a reminder, the IRS no longer accepts passports that do not have a date of entry into the U.S. as a standalone identification document for dependents from a country other than Canada or Mexico as well as for dependents of U.S. military personnel overseas. The dependent’s passport must have a date-of-entry stamp; otherwise, at least one the following documents to prove U.S. residency is required:

  • U.S. medical records for dependents under age 6.
  • U.S. school records for dependents aged 6 to 17.
  • U.S. school records (if a student), rental statements, bank statements or utility bills listing the applicant’s name and U.S. address, if age 18 or over.

If you have questions related to a need for an ITIN or the renewal process, please give us a call.

After Tax Reform, Which Is Right for You: S Corp or C Corp?

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has left many of today’s businesses with big questions. Incorporation remains a hot topic, but this law is shaking things up. It’s quick to assume your company should be one or the other, but without careful consideration of the facts, your organization may end up facing financial loss, hefty tax penalties or missed tax savings.

The goal of this type of incorporation is to minimize tax burdens, but the wrong decision can be costly. In a C Corp, the company pays corporate taxes to the Internal Revenue Service. But, in an S Corp, there’s no entity tax. Rather, taxes are paid through an individual return.

The New Law Changes
The new law, which went into effect for the 2018 tax year, brought changes to both S Corp and C Corp businesses. In fact, both types of corporations benefited here. For C Corps, the tax rate was dropped from 35 percent down to just 21 percent. For an S Corp the new law provides a deduction equal to 20% of the pass-through income from the corp subject to limitations for higher-income taxpayers. At best, this reduces the effective tax rate to 29.6 percent from 37 percent. In both cases, there are specific restrictions here to know.

One thing to remember about these tax changes is that there are many components to determining which method is right for your business. Don’t make a quick judgment here. Rather, invest in some one-on-one time with your tax professional to determine the best possible scenario for your individual company. To help, consider these key areas.

S Corp and C Corp Ownership
A key component in deciding how to incorporate your business relates to ownership. In the S Corp, there is a limit of 100 shareholders within the company. These must be domestic organizations operated in the United States where all of the company’s shareholders are also living in the United States. Additionally, this structure allows for a single stock classification. As a business, you cannot offer common stocks as well as preferred shares, for example.

Comparatively, C Corps allow for fewer restrictions. There is no limit on ownership at all. There is no limit on the number of shareholders the company can have. Any small- to a medium-sized company planning an IPO or simply obtain investors outside of the traditional domestic structure will find C Corps offer far more flexibility.

Another key factor about C Corps relates to the differences within your shareholders. These corporations can issue several types of stock. As a result, it is not uncommon for some shareholder votes to be more important than others. This, too, can influence the decision you make in choosing one or the other model.

Corporation Taxation – Choosing the Best Taxation Structure
Most companies will focus most of their decision on S Corp or C Corp options based on ownership as a starting point. However, every company also wants to keep costs low. Taxation is one of the most expensive hurdles any organization must manage. And, each type of structure offers a different look.

For example, consider how a C Corp is taxed. It is commonly referred to as a “double taxation structure.” This is because the company (the entity itself) will pay a corporate tax. Then, the stockholders pay taxes on their income from the business. While this has long been a concern for any business owner using the C Corp structure (paying taxes twice on income is very costly), the new tax law changes this a bit. As noted previously, the tax rate for C Corp has changed from 35 percent to just 21 percent. However, the dividends will still be faced with double taxation.

The slashing to 21 percent means every company is paying the same rate, neither the size of the company nor the type of organization matters. That’s an important consideration when choosing which type of structure is right for your company.

With the help of a tax professional, it is also important to consider other tax strategies available. For example, an S Corp shareholder pays taxes every year on the money the company earns during that year. This is a simpler, straightforward scenario. But, in a C Corp, the taxes are only paid when the company decides to distribute dividends. It can also occur if a shareholder realizes capital gains (such as when selling ownership). This provides the C Corp with an ability to minimize taxes just by timing dividends properly.

Making the Right Decision for Your Needs
This is only the very top edge of considerations for which is best for your company. However, there are a few things that can influence your decision.

Stable Small Businesses
If you own a smaller company, you’ll benefit from an S Corporation for various reasons. First, the income passes through and is taxable to the stockholders on their 1040s, thereby eliminating double taxation. Plus the lower tax rate and the 20% pass-through deduction are very beneficial to an S-Corporation structure.

Growing Small Businesses
If your company is growing – or you plan to go public and take on new ownership, the C Corporation offers the opportunity to do so. It allows for a larger number of investors, and international investments are possible. Additionally, as a smaller business, you may not be likely to issue dividends any time soon. As a result, this can reduce the amount of income reported to the IRS on an annual basis.

Larger Companies
For larger organizations, the C Corp tends to offer the best structure overall. Other options limit investor access and may create scenarios where the company cannot grow. The effective tax rate is significantly lower – competitive to any company no matter the size. The new tax reform provides the most advantages to this buyer in particular.

Making the Decision for Your Needs
Many organizations today have jumped on the new tax reform as an opportunity to incorporate more tax savings. However, a clear picture is important and we recommend slowing down before making any type of drastic decisions like this. They have far-reaching implications and can create a financial burden or limitations on an organization if the wrong decision occurs. With the assistance of a tax professional or attorney, it is possible to make better decisions based specifically on the type of business structure you have, the business’s short-term and long-term goals, as well as new laws and taxation rates. Before you make a change as an entrepreneur, know what you are really getting. Please contact us with any questions.

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.

Tax Reform 2.0 Is in the Works

The dust has not yet settled from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), passed into law in December 2017, and the House Ways and Means Committee is already considering another round of tax changes. The committee chair, Kevin Brady, Republican from Texas, wants to include input from stakeholders such as business groups, think tanks and other relevant organizations. Historically, major tax reforms have been decades apart, so the committee chair is looking for another approach to the way Washington deals with tax policy.

As with all tax legislation, it begins with talking points. From what we can gather, it appears the focus of Tax Reform 2.0 will include:

  • Making the first round of individual and pass-through business deductions permanent.
  • Focusing on retirement savings and creating a flexible universal savings account so individuals are accustomed to saving for retirement earlier in life.
  • Making it easier for small businesses to participate in multi-employer retirement plans.
  • Looking for ways to help the Treasury implement the TCJA.
  • Providing new business start-ups with greater expensing options for start-up costs.
  • Identifying technical corrections needed for the TCJA.

Commentators believe that making the selected TCJA changes permanent will be a tough sell in Congress at this time, as there is little to no support from the Democratic side of the aisle. However, the retirement savings ideas will probably have a favorable reception and have a good chance of passing.

Stay tuned for further developments and if you have any questions or concerns in the interim, please do not hesitate to contact us.

How QuickBooks Online Can Improve Your Company’s Financial Health

QuickBooks Online is more than just an online bookkeeper. It can help improve your cash flow, your customer relationships, your inventory readiness, and your future.

If you’re already using QuickBooks Online, you know how much impact its bookkeeping abilities have had on your company’s accounting operations. You’re saving time, which in-turn saves money, and you’re reducing errors. When a customer or vendor calls with a question, or you yourself need to track down a critical detail to solve a problem, you’re able to find solutions quickly.

You may already have learned, though, that QuickBooks Online’s benefits include much more than simply getting the numbers right. When you take advantage of all it can offer, you’re likely to notice more far-reaching effects.

The Specifics
Let’s look at how QuickBooks Online accomplishes all of this. You can do much of it on your own, but we’re trained to help small businesses get the most out of QuickBooks Online. We can help you maximize the effectiveness of your accounting time so your company can:

Better balance between income and expenses.

QuickBooks Sales Transactions — improve financial health
QuickBooks Online provides quick, real-time overviews of your sales status.

You can’t begin to improve your company’s cash flow until you understand where the financial bottlenecks are. QuickBooks Online provides that information for both income and expenses in a variety of ways. In the image above, you can see that there are seven past-due invoices. Click on the orange bar to see a list of them, and you can automatically send reminders. QuickBooks Online also automates the process of sending statements.

You can also run accounts receivable and accounts payable reports that will show where you stand with customers and vendors, like Open Invoices, Uninvoiced Time, Unpaid Bills, and Accounts Payable Aging Detail. If you determine that one of your consistent problems with cash flow is late customer payments, you can set up a merchant account through QuickBooks Online to support credit card payments and bank transfers.

More repeat business because of improved customer interaction.
Your customers are like gold. To build the best relationships possible with them, you need a clear, updated picture of their transactions, their payment details and history, and your interaction with them. QuickBooks Online provides templates for Customer Information records that provide all of that, along with their contact information and a real-time update of the status of their invoices and payments, estimates, time activities, etc. The latter is provided in the form of an interactive list with links to immediate actions you can take.

A more stable, profitable inventory of products.
If your business sells products, you know that you have to be smart about inventory levels. Stock too much and you have too much money tied up unnecessarily. Too little, and you’ll be turning customers away and possibly losing their future business. QuickBooks Online’s inventory-tracking tools help you achieve and maintain that balance, so you know both when and how much to reorder.

QuickBooks Inventory — improve financial health
It’s easy to evaluate your inventory status very quickly in QuickBooks Online.

QuickBooks Online also offers multiple inventory reports, like Inventory Valuation Detail, Physical Inventory Worksheet, and Sales by Product/Service Detail.

Readiness for growth.
You may never want to acquire another company, or move into more spacious offices, or employ dozens of individuals. However, it’s not often that a company doesn’t want to be in a position to grow. And you never know when an opportunity will present itself that would require additional capital. Would you be ready?

If you’ve never applied for a business loan or tried to attract investors, you don’t know how much financial information you’ll need to provide, or in what format. There are very specific reports your potential lenders or investors will want to see, standard financial statements. QuickBooks Online includes templates for these, which include a Balance Sheet, Profit and Loss, and Statement of Cash Flows.

Like the reports we mentioned earlier, they’re easy to generate on the site, thanks to intelligent, customizable templates. Analyzing them, though, and making sure they’re ready to be seen by third-parties takes professional expertise. We can provide that for you. We can also help you better understand and use other elements of QuickBooks Online so that you’re taking advantage of all of its benefits. Contact us soon to set up an initial consultation.

Offer in Compromise FAQs

We’re all responsible for paying our fair share of taxes each year. But what happens when the amount that you owe is simply out of reach? What happens if you failed to make payments in a timely manner and your financial circumstances have shifted to the point where your cumulative debt is beyond your ability to pay? In the face of this untenable position, your best option for paying the IRS may be what is known as an Offer in Compromise.

The Goal of the Offer in Compromise
The Offer in Compromise, or OIC, was created to accomplish two goals: it allows American taxpayers who are unable to pay the full amount of their tax debt a way to negotiate a payment that is in keeping with their ability to pay, while at the same time providing the IRS with the ability to collect at least a portion of the amount that is owed to them. The process is neither simple nor fast: it generally takes at least one to two years for both sides to come to an agreement on an amount to be paid.

Even so, it has certain advantages for both sides.

An Offer in Compromise generally allows for resolution to be accomplished outside of court, with the agreed-to payment reflective of income and assets rather than the actual amount of debt that has accrued. Though it may seem a loss for the IRS, the agency ends up recovering more as a result of settling than they are likely to through a strong-arm collection process.

Understanding the Available Offer in Compromise Options
Taxpayers interested in pursuing an Offer in Compromise generally have three different options available to them under federal law. They are to suggest that they do not actually owe the tax debt that they are being charged with; to indicate that there simply are not enough assets or income to make a payment on the debt that has accrued; or to pursue a compromise based on either exceptional circumstances or economic hardship. This last option falls under the category of “effective tax administration,” and is notable because the taxpayer makes no argument as to either their ability to pay or whether they, in fact, owe the named amount.

Applying for an Offer in Compromise
The OIC process is both time-consuming and complicated. Applications require specific forms as well as extensive documentation, and all must be accurately prepared in keeping with IRS regulations. When mistakes are made or forms are incomplete the applications are quickly returned without the benefit of a review. To minimize both delay and frustration, it is strongly suggested that taxpayers looking to avail themselves of an OIC employ tax professionals for both the preparation of their paperwork and the negotiation of its terms.

Not Every OIC Application is Approved
It is also important to remember that an application for an OIC by no means guarantees the desired outcome. Submitting the specifics of your situation to a qualified tax professional will provide you with the ability to have your case reviewed by an expert who understands the process and the IRS criteria for approval, and who will be able to give you a reasoned perspective on the viability of your request.

Working with a professional will also provide you with reasonable expectations regarding the amount of time that the process will take and what your chances are of having your initial offer accepted. The program generally takes about two years from start to finish, and it is common for the IRS to make a counteroffer when the agency believes it will be able to collect more than the amount proffered by the applicant.

In evaluating your case, the Internal Revenue Service will likely pay less attention to the actual amount that is owed than the amount that the taxpayer is able to pay. This determination will be made on the basis of numerous factors, including income, assets, previous earnings capacity and anticipation of your earnings capacity in the future. Living expenses will also be taken into consideration.

The good news is that from the time that an application is sent in and while an IRS evaluation is taking place, most collection efforts are frozen. This generally provides tremendous relief from stress for taxpayers who have fallen behind in their payments and who feel unable to submit the amount that they owe.

If you have found yourself in this situation, contact us today to discuss your options. An experienced and knowledgeable tax expert will help you to understand, anticipate, and prepare for all aspects of the Offer in Compromise process, and will act as your advocate during sensitive negotiations.

10 Mistakes Most Small Business Owners Miss When Starting Out

The process of starting a small business can be an arduous one; there are numerous steps that need to be taken — and often in a precise order — to legally establish a business. As a result, the process can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, it’s also easy to overlook some important details and steps along the way. By being aware of a few of the most common legal and compliance mistakes made by small business owners when starting out, you can be better prepared for future success.

1. Misclassifying Employees as Independent Contractors
Regulators are coming down hard on misclassifications. The IRS estimates that this problem includes millions of workers. It is best to talk this through with an expert, but you can get some background on the guidelines at the United States Department of Labor website.

2. Choosing the Wrong Business Structure
One of the first major decisions you’ll need to make in regards to your small business is the type of business structure you will select. This can range anywhere from a basic sole proprietorship (which doesn’t require any special forms or paperwork) to a more complex structure, such as a corporation or LLC. Keep in mind that different types of business structures offer different tax benefits and other protections, so it’s important to thoroughly explore your options and select the structure that’s best for your unique needs. You’ll also need to go through the legal process of establishing your business under your desired structure, which may require help from a legal or other type of professional.

3. Failing to Apply for an Employer Identification Number
Unless you plan on operating your business strictly as a sole proprietorship (in which case, you will use your personal Social Security number when filing taxes), you’ll also need to apply for a unique Employer Identification Number (EIN). This number will be specifically associated with your business, and it can be helpful to think of it as a business Social Security number of sorts; it’s used to file your business taxes, open up dedicated business bank accounts, and the like.

4. Overlooking Important Permits and Licenses
Depending on the specific industry in which your business will be operating and your location, you may also be required to obtain specialized licenses and/or permits in order to legally operate. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of being shut down or finding yourself in serious legal trouble down the road. Take some time to research the specific types of permits or licenses that you may need to obtain, as well as the steps you’ll need to take in order to acquire them. Sometimes, this process can be time-consuming and even costly, so it’s not something you’ll want to put off until the last minute.

5. Not Knowing When to Speak to a Professional
When starting up a small business, it’s not uncommon to run a one-man (or woman) operation. After all, you may not have the cash flow or even the need to hire outside help in the early stages. Still, when it comes to making sure your business is squared away from a legal/compliance standpoint, it can certainly be worth the money to consult with tax and accounting professionals early in the game. You don’t necessarily need to onboard these experts full-time, but being able to turn to them for advice and guidance when you need it will help you avoid serious legal issues later on.

6. Putting Off Domain Name Registration
As soon as you have your business name picked out and registered, it’s also in your best interest to go ahead and register your website domain as soon as possible. Even if you don’t plan on setting up and launching your website any time soon, domain names are cheap, and having yours registered now will help you avoid a situation where the domain name you want is taken by somebody else later on.

7. Lack of a Comprehensive Business Plan
One of the biggest mistakes small business owners make when first starting out is that of not having a well thought-out and articulated business plan. A business plan is an important document that outlines in detail what your goals for your business are and how you will achieve them. This document is important not just for you and other members of your immediate team, but for potential investors as well. Should you seek financing for your company at any point, an investor is going to want to see and scrutinize your business plan — and it will likely have a major impact on the final decision.

8. Not Having Finances Squared Away
Another common mistake new business owners make is that of poor financial planning, which can lead to a lack of funding to get you through your first months successfully. Ideally, you’ll want to make sure your business plan accounts for all the company-related expenses you’ll incur during the first year of operation, as well as any personal expenses as well. Unfortunately, this is something that many small business owners overlook or miscalculate with disastrous results. The easiest way to avoid this mistake is to consult with a small business accountant during the early stages of drafting your business plan.

9. Failing to File Patents on Products or Ideas
It’s (hopefully) no surprise that you’ll want to be proactive about filing for patents for any unique products, prototypes or designs you may have. However, what many small business owners first starting out don’t realize is that they’ll also want to file patents on ideas, such as intellectual property, that could otherwise be stolen or copied and used by other entrepreneurs. After all, intellectual property can be just as valuable as a product prototype — so you’ll want to plan and protect these kinds of ideas accordingly.

Be careful to also avoid the mistake of waiting too long to file for relevant patents; the process can often be long and drawn out, so getting started as early as possible will be in your best interest.

10. Being Blind to Important Compliance Requirements
Last, but not least, make sure you’re aware of any and all compliance requirements that may apply to your business based on its structure, location, industry or other factors. For example, even if you’re keeping things “simple” by operating as a sole proprietorship, you’re going to be required to file and pay quarterly estimated taxes under that structure. Failing to meet compliance and other requirements can result in serious legal trouble, including fines and penalties, down the road.

When it comes to compliance requirements, such as annual reporting and tax filing, it’s always a good idea to keep a calendar of important dates, so you don’t forget anything. After all, you’ll have enough deadlines to worry about and remember on your own — especially during that first year of business operation. This is yet another situation where having a compliance expert, such as a tax or accounting professional, can really come in handy. He or she can assist you with annual compliance reviews, reminders on impending deadlines and the like.

From selecting a name and business structure to making sure your small business remains in compliance at all times, there are, unfortunately, a lot of opportunities to make mistakes as a new business owner. By keeping this information in mind and by working alongside the right types of professionals as you prepare to launch your new business, hopefully, you’ll be able to avoid these issues. From there, you can maximize your chances for success in the first year of operation and beyond.

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.