Expecting Your Taxable Income to Be Low This Year? Take Advantage of It

If your taxable income is exceptionally low this year, or even if you expect not to be required to file a tax return this year, a number of tax opportunities may be available to you. But time is running short, since these opportunities will require action on your part before year’s end.

However, before we consider actual strategies, let’s look at key elements that govern tax rates and taxable income.

Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) – This is the sum of all of your income that’s subject to tax, such as wages, interest, dividends, gains from sales, net self-employment income, retirement income, minus items that are specifically deductible without having to itemize your deductions, including contributions to traditional IRAs and self-employed retirement plans, interest paid on student loans, contributions to health savings plans, and a limited number of others.

Taxable Income – To be simplistic, taxable income is your AGI less the greater of the standard deduction for your filing status or your itemized deductions:

AGI
XXXX
Deductions – XXXX
Taxable Income
XXXX

If the deductions exceed your AGI, then you can end up with a negative taxable income, which means that to the extent it is negative, you can actually add income or reduce your deductions without incurring any tax.

Graduated Individual Tax Rates – Ordinary individual tax rates are graduated. So as your taxable income increases, so does your tax rate. Thus, the lower your taxable income, the lower your tax rate will be. Your income tax is the result of multiplying your tax rate by your taxable income (but to simplify the computation for those with taxable income up to $100,000, the IRS figures the tax by income range and provides look-up tables, so for most taxpayers, their tax rate is not apparent). Individual ordinary tax rates range from 10% to as high as 37%. For 2018, the taxable income amounts for the three lowest tax rates – 10%, 12%, and 22% – are:

Filing Status
Single
Married Filing Jointly
Head of Household
Married Filing Separate
10%
$0–9,525
$0–19,050
$0–13,600
$0–9,525
12%
$9,526–38,700
$19,051–77,400
$13,601–51,800
$9,526–38,700
22%
$38,701–82,500
$77,401–165,000
$51,801–82,500
$38,701–82,500

So for instance, if you are single, your first $9,525 of taxable income is taxed at 10%. The next $29,174 ($9,526 to $38,700) is taxed at 12%, and the next $43,799 ($38,701 to $82,500) is taxed at 22%.

Here are some strategies you can employ for your tax benefit. However, these strategies may be interdependent on one another and your particular tax circumstances.

Take IRA Distributions – Depending upon your projected taxable income, you might consider taking an IRA distribution to add income for the year. For instance, if your projected taxable income is negative, then you can actually take a withdrawal of up to the negative amount without incurring any tax. Even if your projected taxable income is not negative and your normal taxable income would put you in the 22% or higher bracket, you might want to take out just enough to be taxed at the 10% or even the 12% tax rate. Of course, those are retirement dollars; consider moving them into a regular financial account set aside for your retirement. Also, be aware that distributions before age 59½ are subject to a 10% early-withdrawal penalty even if there is no tax liability, so this strategy isn’t recommended for those younger than 59½.

Redeem Government Bonds – If you have invested in U.S. government bonds, such as Series EE or I bonds, and you’ve been deferring paying tax on the interest from these bonds until they mature, you may want to cash in the bonds prior to the year when they mature, if that maturity date is within the next few years and to the extent that adding the bond interest to your other income for the year won’t push you out of the zero or 10% tax bracket and into a higher bracket. This strategy isn’t advisable if the interest you would earn on the bonds if you held them to maturity would be more than the tax you can save by cashing in the bonds during a low-income year.

Defer Deductions – When you itemize your deductions, you may claim only the deductions you actually pay during the tax year (the calendar year, for most folks). If your projected taxable income will be negative and you are planning on itemizing your deductions, you might consider putting off some of those year-end deductible payments until after the first of the year and preserving the deductions for next year. Such payments might include house of worship tithing, year-end charitable giving, tax payments (but not those incurring late payment penalties), estimated state income tax payments, and medical expenses.

Convert Traditional IRA Funds into a Roth IRA – Roth IRAs provide tax-free accumulation and tax-free retirement distributions. So to the extent of any negative taxable income or even just for the lower tax rates, you may wish to consider converting some or all of your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA. The lower income results in a lower tax rate, which will provide you with an opportunity to convert to a Roth IRA at a lower tax amount.

Zero Capital Gains Rate – There are three capital gains rates depending upon your taxable income. When your taxable income is in the lowest range, as shown in the table below, you will actually pay no tax on your long-term capital gains. Thus, if your taxable income is within the zero percent long-term capital gains rate bracket, this is an opportunity for you to sell some appreciated securities that you have owned for more than a year and pay no tax on the gains.

Long-Term Capital Gains Rates (2018)
Filing Status
0%
15%
20%
Single
$0–38,600
$38,601–425,800
$425,801 & Above
Head of Household
$0–51,700
$51,701–452,400
$452,401 & Above
Married Joint
$0–77,200
$77,201–479,000
$479,001 & Above
Married Separate
$0–38,600
$38,601–239,500
$239,501 & Above

Business Expenses – The tax code has some very liberal provisions that allow a business to currently expense, rather than capitalize and slowly depreciate, the purchase costs of certain property. In a low-income year, it may be appropriate to capitalize rather than expense these current-year purchases and preserve the depreciation deduction for higher-income years. This is especially true when taxable income is negative in the current year.

Affordable Care Act – On the negative side, if you have obtained your medical insurance through a government marketplace, employing any of the strategies mentioned above will increase your taxable income and could impact the amount of your allowable premium tax credit. As a result, you would likely have to repay some or all of any advance premium tax credit that was used to reduce your health insurance premiums; the credit is reconciled on your tax return.

If you would like to discuss how these strategies might provide you with tax benefits based upon your particular tax circumstances or would like to schedule a tax-planning appointment, please give us a call.

Ten Ways to Improve Profits in the Coming Year

In the U.S., the economy is thriving and expected to grow over the next few months. Businesses are expanding. The Federal Reserve has inched up interest rates, creating investment opportunities, and lenders are offering small business loans. All of this points to a promising outlook for the coming months. As a small business owner, this is the time to take a closer look at your profit and loss sheets to determine how you can make the most out of this current economy.

How Can You Increase Revenue and Profits in the Coming Year?
For most companies, increasing revenue and profit margins is a goal. Yet, there’s strong competition in most sectors. Here’s a look at ways you can boost your profit margins without having to invest heavily.

#1: Increase Pricing Marginally
Inflation is a key component of the current market. As the U.S. consumer increases confidence in spending, it becomes possible to increase prices. Re-evaluate your current price points. Are you getting enough from each sale to build profits?

#2: Don’t Overlook the Impact of Tariffs
The ongoing trade war with China has many business owners worried about cost. Plan now. Tariffs are impacting nearly all industries including construction, retail, restaurants, and manufacturing to name just a few. Work with your team to understand the impact on your business’s bottom line, such as the higher cost of goods, and build those costs into your prices.

#3: Get Rid of Tasks Not Adding Value to the Customer
Take a closer look at what you are spending on within your profit and loss. Is each one of these expenses directly contributing to your customers’ needs? Eliminate costs that do not contribute to customer value.

#4: Review Competitor Prices
Along with increasing your prices, take a closer look at what your competition is charging for services. There are two things to focus on here. If their prices are higher, why? Are they offering something better for their product or service that encourages a higher price point? Second, are your prices competitively aligned with theirs? If not, what can you do to offer something extra to your customer?

#5: Reduce Overstock
Carrying a significant amount of stock does not improve business operations and increases costs. It can drive up waste when product is lost or forgotten. It also hampers your company’s ability to keep inventory costs in line with your goals. Pair down stock.

#6: Find a Way to Increase the Value of Every Sale
Provide some last-minute addition your customer could buy to enhance their product or service. Ensure your sales team is speaking to each customer about this offer, right as they close the deal. If you sell cars, offer an add-on feature for a certain additional amount. If you sell professional services, determine if your customers could benefit from a monthly check-in or other add-on services.

#7: Expand Product or Services Lines With Care
Look for complimentary services and products that do not require a lot of investment to offer them to your customers. What additional products or revenue streams could enhance what you already provide? This may not require additional equipment or a large amount of inventory.

#8: Build Your Team’s Skillset
Beyond a doubt, in a sales-oriented business, your company cannot build revenue if your sales team misses their market. Invest in sales training for the modern audience. Focus on moving away from traditional methods toward more efficient and brand-building methods for sales.

#9: Get Your Numbers in Line Now
Hiring a team to help you explore your current profit margins is critical. However, bringing on a professional organization to help with managing your books is only effective if you apply the information and insights they provide to you. In other words, find a team you can sit down with and discuss opportunities you can apply right now.

#10: Build Your Customer Base
Use a variety of tools to help build your customer base. Complete a market analyses to better understand who your target customer is. Then, work to modernize your marketing efforts to attract that specific audience. When you do, you turn heads and capitalize on a new set of customers.

Building revenue and profits starts with knowing where you are specifically. Review your prices, financial accounts, and books with care. Then, look for small ways to reduce costs that don’t contribute to your profits and build up services, products, and prices for those that help your company to grow. Always have a focus on the bottom-line benefit of any investment you make.

If you have any questions about improving profitability in the coming year, please contact us for assistance.

Legitimate Tax-Deductible Charity or Scam?

With the holiday season approaching, and with the great need for aid in the wake of the recent hurricanes and wildfires, you no doubt are being solicited for donations. However, do not be fooled by the scammers who come out from hiding whenever there is a disaster and during the holiday season. The last thing you want to do is get ripped off; not only will your charitable dollars go to waste, but you will also lose your tax deduction, as contributions are only tax-deductible if they are to qualified charities.

Soon, your physical and electronic mailboxes – not to mention your voicemail box – will be filled with charitable solicitations. Before you break out your checkbook, however, be sure to do your homework, especially if you are contemplating a donation to an organization that you are not already familiar with. The Federal Trade Commission suggests avoiding any charity or fundraiser that:

  • refuses to provide detailed information about its identity, mission, and costs, as well as how your donation will be used;
  • will not provide proof that your contribution would be tax-deductible;
  • uses a name that closely resembles that of a better-known (more reputable) organization;
  • thanks you for a pledge that you do not remember making;
  • uses high-pressure tactics to get you to donate immediately;
  • asks for donations in cash or asks you to wire money; or
  • offers to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect a donation immediately.

Numerous websites can help you to check the validity of a charity. The IRS provides one, but it is rather cumbersome to use. Charity Navigator allows you to search for a charity name and provides details about that charity’s function. When in doubt, take the time to verify a charity’s legitimacy.

If you plan to itemize your deductions – after you have determined that you are not contributing to a scam operation – ensure that your charitable donations meet the requirements for being tax-deductible. The recipient organization must be one or more of the following:

  • a church, synagogue, mosque, or other place of worship;
  • a tax-exempt educational institution or hospital;
  • a federal, state, or local governmental unit, if the contribution is used for public purposes;
  • a publicly supported corporation, trust, fund, foundation, or community chest that is organized and operated only for charitable, religious, educational, scientific, or literary purposes; to prevent cruelty to children or animals; or to foster certain national or international amateur sports competitions; or
  • a certain type of private operating foundation or agricultural research organization.

Substantiation – First and foremost, you must receive substantiation of your cash gift in order to deduct it on your tax return; you also must itemize your deductions rather than use the standard deduction. Cash contributions include those paid by cash, check, electronic fund transfer, and credit card. However, you cannot deduct a cash contribution, regardless of the amount, unless you can document the contribution in one of the following ways:

  1. A bank record that shows the qualified organization’s name, as well as the date and amount of the contribution. Eligible bank records include a. a canceled check, b. a bank or credit union statement, or c. a credit card statement.
  2. A receipt (or a letter or other written communication) from the qualified organization showing the organization’s name, as well as the date and amount of the contribution.

Cash contributions of $250 or more – To claim a deduction for a contribution of $250 or more, you must provide a written acknowledgment of the contribution from the qualified organization. This acknowledgment must include the following details:

  1. The amount of cash contributed
  2. Whether the qualified organization gave the taxpayer goods or services (other than certain token items and membership benefits) as a result of the contribution, including a description and good-faith estimate of the value of those goods or services (not counting intangible religious benefits)
  3. A statement that you received no benefit (other than an intangible religious benefit)

The value of any goods or services received in exchange for a donation must be subtracted from the amount claimed as a contribution. If the acknowledgment does not show the date of the contribution, then you must also supply one of the bank records described above to verify the contribution date. If this acknowledgement includes the contribution date and meets the other requirements, it is not necessary to provide other records.

The acknowledgment must be in your hands before the date you file your tax return but not later than the April due date for return (or the extended due date of October if you filed an extension).

Christmas Kettles – It is quite common for charitable organizations to collect cash donations at malls during the holiday shopping season. Consider writing a check to place in these kettles rather than using cash so that you will have the substantiation required for a tax-deductible contribution.

Needy Individuals – You may wish to help out a needy family; although that is a very kind thing to do, no charitable deduction is allowed for such gifts to private individuals (either directly or as through a charitable organization).

GoFundMe – Through this website (and others like it), people raise funds for good causes such as starting a business, paying medical bills or funeral costs, replacing damaged or destroyed homes. However, these websites are not qualified charities for the purposes of claiming a charitable contribution on your tax return.

Special Contribution Rule for Taxpayers Age 70½ and Over – The tax code includes a special provision that allows taxpayers who are at least 70½ years old to directly transfer up to $100,000 from an IRA account to a qualified charity. Instead of receiving a charitable deduction, that person instead gets the benefit of the IRA distribution being nontaxable and counting toward the required minimum distribution for the year. This is especially beneficial for people who receive Social Security benefits and those who take the standard deduction. Although this is generally considered a good tax-saving strategy for those who can afford to make large donations, there is actually no minimum for this rule, so it will likely even benefit individuals in lower tax brackets.

Bunching – When taxpayers’ itemized deductions are only marginally different from the standard deduction, they can consider the method known as bunching. In this technique, the taxpayer make two years’ worth of donations in a single year and then skips making donations in the next year. For example, if you annually contribute $5,000 to a house of worship but have total itemized deductions that are consistently a few hundred dollars less than the standard deduction, you can instead double up by donating $10,000 in a single year. That way, you will be able to claim itemized deductions for the year when you make the donation and can then take the standard deduction in the following year.

For large donations, there are limitations based on adjusted gross income, and there are other available techniques, such as donor-advised funds. This article also did not covered donations of noncash items, such as used furniture or household goods; these have additional substantiation requirements. Please call us if you have questions, or if you would like to set up an appointment to strategize about maximizing the tax benefits of your charitable contributions.

Year-end Tax Planning Is Not Business as Usual: Things You Need to Know

This has been a tumultuous year for taxes, with the tax reform that passed in late 2017 generally becoming effective in 2018, often with significant changes for both individuals and businesses. This is the first major tax reform legislation in more than 30 years. To implement it, the IRS will have to create or revise approximately 450 forms, publications and instructions and modify around 140 information technology systems. All of these changes are to ensure it can accommodate the newly revised or created tax forms, not to mention writing tax regulations for all of these changes – a daunting task for sure. The following issues could affect you and you may need to plan ahead.

Refund or Tax Due? – Most taxpayers are equating the recent tax reform to a larger refund when their 2018 tax return is prepared. However, that may not be the case because your tax refund is the difference between what you prepaid through payroll withholding and estimated tax payments and what you owe. Even if your tax bill is lower, if your prepayments were also lower, then your refund may not be as expected.

The passage of tax reform came on December 20, 2017, just days before employers needed Form W-4 – the Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate – for 2018 withholding information from their employees, which did not give the IRS time to adjust the form and withholding tables for the new law. It was not until late February that the IRS published revised withholding tables and an updated Form W-4. Even then, there was concern that some employers might be using the old W-4 with the new tables. On top of that, many taxpayers and tax professionals were finding that the revised W-4 and withholding tables did not produce an accurate result. The bottom line is that there is a real concern that many taxpayers are in for an unpleasant surprise at tax time – so much so that the IRS has been issuing almost daily notices warning taxpayers that they may be under-withheld. This is a real concern for 2018 returns, and you may wish to fine-tune your withholding before year’s end.

Underpayment of Taxes: Should your liability be greater than your prepayments by $1,000 or more, you may also be subject to underpayment penalties. This could simply be the result of under-withholding on your wages or underpaying estimated tax if you are self-employed, or of out-of-the-ordinary income, such as stock gains, sale of a business or rental or even winning big from the lottery. There are safe harbor prepayments to avoid a penalty, which require prepaying:

  • 90% of the current year’s tax liability,
  • 100% of the prior year’s tax liability, or
  • 110% of the prior year’s tax liability, if the prior year’s AGI was over $150,000.

If you are underpaid, there is still time to make adjustments and avoid or mitigate the penalty. Adjusting your payroll withholding is the best option, since withholding is treated as being paid ratably throughout the year, and the penalty is computed on a quarterly basis based on the prepayments through that quarter. However, as the end of the year gets closer, there is less and less time for revised withholding to kick in, so don’t delay in notifying your employer if you need to increase your withholding.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT): Although Congress had promised to repeal both individual and corporate AMT, they only repealed the corporate AMT. However, even though they didn’t repeal it for individuals, the tax reform act did increase the exemption amounts and phase-out thresholds, and it eliminated certain deductions that triggered the AMT, so that the AMT will impact fewer taxpayers, giving rise to these possible strategies:

Exercise Incentive Stock Options – These changes to the AMT may allow larger blocks of incentive stock options to be exercised, and the stock that’s issued can be held long-term and thus enjoy the lower capital gains tax rates without triggering the AMT. Some tax planning may be required, which may be a multi-year endeavor.

Recapture AMT – The higher exemptions and phase-outs provide a greater opportunity for taxpayers with AMT tax credit carryover to recapture AMT paid in prior years. If the current year’s regular tax exceeds the AMT, a taxpayer can claim the AMT credit carryover for the difference.

Avoid the Minimum Required Distribution Penalties: Once taxpayers reach the age of 70.5, they are required to take what is known as a “required minimum distribution” from their qualified retirement plan or IRA every year. If this is the first year that this rule applies to you and you haven’t taken your money out yet, there’s no need to panic – you don’t have to do so until some time during the first quarter of next year. Of course, if you wait until 2019 to take your 2018 distribution, you’re going to end up having to take two distributions in one year: one for 2018 and one for 2019. For those who fell into this category before 2018, you only have until December 31st to withdraw your 2018 distribution to avoid penalties.

Convert into a Roth IRA: If you have a traditional IRA and your income for 2018 has been very low, you may want to consider converting your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA and taking advantage of the tax-free distribution benefits of a Roth IRA in the future, especially if you can do so with little or no tax on the conversions. This will probably require a tax projection to determine an amount to convert and the tax cost, if any, of the conversion. However, the tax reform made conversions permanent, and once made, the conversion cannot be undone.

Review Portfolio for Losses: The conventional strategy is to offset as much of your gains as possible with losses from selling other assets in your portfolio. If you have an overall loss, the loss that can be used to offset income other than capital gains is limited to $3,000 ($1,500 for married taxpayers filing separately), and any excess loss carries over to the next year. Keep in mind that losses from the sale of business assets are generally separately allowed in full in the year of sale and are not mixed with the losses from the sale of capital assets.

Assets that are sold and not held long-term, referred to as short-term capital gains, do not receive the benefit of the special rates afforded to long-term capital gains. Taxpayers achieve a better overall tax benefit if they can arrange their transactions to offset short-term capital gains with long-term capital losses.

Make the Most of Higher Education Tax Credits: Both the Lifetime Learning education credit and the American Opportunity Credit allow qualified taxpayers who prepaid tuition bills in 2018 for an academic period that begins by the end of March 2019 to use the prepayments when claiming the 2018 credit. That means that if you are eligible to take the credit and you have not yet reached the 2018 maximum credit for qualified tuition and related expenses paid, you can bump up your credits by paying early for 2019 now. This may not apply to you if you’ve been paying tuition expenses for the entire 2018 tax year, but it will probably provide you with some additional help if your student just started college this fall.

Optimize Health Savings Account Contributions: Did you become eligible to make contributions to a Health Savings Account this year? If so, then you can make deductible contributions into that account up to its maximum amount, no matter when you became eligible. For 2018, the maximum deduction for self-only coverage is $3,450; for family coverage, it is $6,900. Empty Flexible Spending Accounts: If you have a flexible spending account, double-check to see if any remaining account balance can be used for medical expenses, including eyeglasses and/or other health care items covered by the FSA. Remember: funds not used by the account deadline will be forfeited.

Bunch Charitable Deductions: Many people who itemize take advantage of the ability to take a deduction for their donation to their favorite charity or house of worship. Did you know that you can choose to pay all or part of your 2019 planned giving in 2018 to increase the amount you deduct in 2018? Though this may not be appealing to those who itemize every year, you may find this to be an effective strategy if you only marginally itemize every year. Implementing this strategy means you will alternate between taking the standard deduction one year and itemizing the next, giving you a big boost in deductions on the year when you itemize.

Additionally, those who are required to take a required minimum distribution from their IRA because they are 70.5 or older can have their RMD paid directly to a qualified charity, and instead of getting a charitable deduction, the distribution is tax-free, which in turn might reduce the amount of your taxable Social Security income. If this strategy appeals to you, don’t wait until the last minute to implement it, as your IRA trustee or custodian will need time to process the paperwork and make the distribution to the charity or charities you designate.

Deductions – Although the tax reform increased the standard deduction, possibly making it a better choice for the federal return for some, most states did not conform to the federal changes, making it business as usual for itemizing on the state return.

Remember the Annual Gift Tax Exemption: One of the best ways to ultimately reduce your estate taxes and at the same time give to those you love is to take advantage of the annual gift tax exemption. Although the gifts are not tax-deductible, for tax year 2018, you are able to give $15,000 to each of as many people as you want without having to report the transfer to the government or pay any gift tax. If this is something that you want to do, make sure that you do so by the end of the year, as you are not able to carry the $15,000 over into 2019.

Home Equity Debt: The interest on home equity debt is not allowed as an itemized deduction for years 2018 through 2025. (Note: the term equity debt has a different meaning for tax purposes than for lenders. For tax purposes what lenders refer to as equity debt can actually be acquisition debt and may still be deductible if used to purchase or substantially improve a taxpayers home or second home.) But that doesn’t mean equity interest can’t be deducted somewhere else on your return as investment interest or business interest, if you can trace the use of the loan funds to a deductible use.

Retirement Savings: Be sure to maximize your retirement plan contributions before year-end. Once the year is gone, you have forever lost an opportunity to make this year’s annual tax-advantaged addition to your savings for future retirement, which won’t be all that pleasant without a substantial retirement nest egg. If your employer matches some of the amount you contribute to your 401(k) or another eligible retirement plan, be sure to contribute as much as you can to take full advantage of this perk. If the contributions are tax-deductible, such as to a traditional IRA, or made with pre-tax income, maximizing the contributions may also cut your tax bill.

Divorce in the Future: If you or someone you know is contemplating divorce, you should be aware of a big tax change related to alimony. For divorces finalized by the end of 2018, alimony payments are deductible by the one paying them and considered income to the one receiving them. However, for divorces finalized after 2018, alimony is no longer deductible by the payer and is no longer taxable for the recipient. This can have a significant impact on the terms negotiated during a divorce.

Maximize Business Expenses: Beginning in 2018, business owners are able to write off most business purchases using the very liberal 100% bonus depreciation and the Sec. 179 expensing allowance. But to benefit, the business asset must not only be purchased before year’s end, it must also be placed into service by year’s end.

New Flow-Through Deduction: Individuals with taxable incomes (net of capital gains) less than $157,500 and married couples filing jointly with taxable incomes less than $315,000 will enjoy the benefits of the new 20% pass-through deduction from business entities other than C-corporations. Taxpayers with higher incomes will want to determine if any change in compensation structure might increase the deduction.

Additionally, S-corporation employee-stockholders will need to make sure their salary meets the “reasonable compensation” requirements, since the wages are a critical factor in determining the flow-through deduction from an S-corporation.

Every taxpayer’s situation is unique, not all of the suggestions offered here may apply to you, and by no means does the list include all the changes brought about by tax reform. However, they cover many of the major issues for taxpayers and small businesses. If you had any major business, income, or family changes or if any of the issues discussed affect you, a year-end tax planning appointment may be appropriate. The best way to ensure that you are putting yourself into the best tax-advantaged position is to consider all of your tax options. Please call us with questions or to schedule an appointment.

Getting Started with Accounts in QuickBooks Online

QuickBooks Online was built to work with transactions downloaded from your online financial institutions. Here’s how to work with them.

The ability to import transactions from financial institutions into QuickBooks Online is definitely one of the best things about the site. You may have even signed up for that very reason. By now, you’ve probably already set up at least one connection. But are you using all of the QuickBooks Online’s account tools? There’s a lot you can do once you’ve imported in data from your bank or credit card provider. We’ll explore these features in this column and the next.

First Steps
If you’re a new subscriber, you may not have established these critical links yet. It’s an easy process. Start by clicking the Banking link in the left vertical navigation pane. In the upper right corner, click Add Account and enter the name of your financial institution if it’s not pictured. Then follow the instructions you’re given on the screen. These can vary depending on the bank or credit card provider, but you’re always at least asked to enter the user name and password that you use to log into each online.

Need help with this? Let us know.

Viewing Your Transactions
Once you’ve made a successful connection, you’ll be returned to the Bank and Credit Cards page. You should see a card-shaped graphic at the top of the screen for each account you’ve linked. Click on one. The table that opens is not your account register. The view here defaults to For Review, which refers to transactions you’ve downloaded. The All tab should also be highlighted; we’ll get to Recognized transactions later.


When you first download transactions into QuickBooks Online, before you’ve done anything with them, many will appear under For Review.

There’s a lot going on here, so don’t be surprised if you’re confused. Review each transaction by clicking on it. QuickBooks Online will have guessed at how it should be categorized, but you can change this by opening the list in the category field and selecting the correct one. It’s critical that you get this right, since it will have an impact on reports and income taxes. If you need to Split it between multiple categories, click on that button found to the right.

If the transaction is Billable, check that box and choose a customer from the drop-down list. If you don’t see this box, click the gear icon in the upper right and select Account and Settings | Expenses. Check to see that Make Expenses and Items Billable is turned On (click on Off, then check the appropriate box to turn it on).

Next, determine how you want to process the transaction by clicking on one of the three buttons at the top of the transaction box. Do you want to accept it and Add it to that account’s register? Do you want QuickBooks Online to Find (a) Match for it (like a payment that matches an invoice, for example)? Or, do you want to Transfer it to another account? Once you’ve made one of these three selections, the transactions that you’ve added or matched will move under the In QuickBooks tab (where you can still Undo them) and will be available in the account’s register.

Other Options


You can save time by using QuickBooks Online’s Batch Actions tool.

Say you run a cross some duplicate or personal transactions that you don’t want to appear in the current account’s register. Check the box in front of each, then click the arrow in the Batch Actions box. Select Exclude Selected. They’ll then be available under the Excluded tab. You can also Accept or Modify multiple transactions simultaneously by using this tool.

So far, you’ve been viewing All your transactions. Click on Recognized to the right of it. These are transactions that are already familiar to QuickBooks Online because they’ve appeared before and/or have been matched, or because you’ve created Bank Rules for them (we’ll address that concept next month). You’ll need to address these the same way you did the transactions in the For Review section; you can either Add or Transfer them.

If you’re new to QuickBooks Online, this may all sound complicated and it certainly can be at first. But once you’ve worked with downloaded transactions for a while, you’ll understand the flow much better. If you’re not clear on the process from the start, it can lead to problems and we encourage you to contact us for assistance. We would be happy to meet with you and review your own company’s data; the familiarity may help.

Most Common Types of IRS Tax Problems

Receiving a notification from the Internal Revenue Service that there’s some kind of problem is one of the most disturbing situations an American taxpayer can experience. Just receiving an envelope with a return address from the IRS can strike fear. There are many different reasons that the IRS might reach out, but some are more common than others.

Here are the top issues that would cause a taxpayer to hear from the IRS or require you to resolve an issue:

  • An Error On Your Tax Return – Nobody’s perfect, and filling out tax returns is not an easy thing. If you’ve made a mistake, whether it’s something simple like filing status or number of dependents or something bigger like total income or incorrectly claiming a deduction, if you discover it on your own, all you need to do is file an amended return using form 1040X, the Amended Individual Income Tax Return. If the mistake means that you owe more money, quickly submitting the amount that you owe will help you avoid having to pay too much in penalties or interest. It’s not at all unusual for the IRS to discover mistakes – especially math mistakes – and they will generally notify you that they have made corrections on your behalf.
  • Mismatched/Underreported Income – Along the lines of the mistakes referenced above, there is a specific form that the IRS will send you if they determine that the amount of income you report on your tax return is different from what has been reported by employers. That form is the CP2000 Notice, and the agency will send it to you, notifying you of the corrected amount, should they review your return and feel that it is appropriate.
  • Failure to File a Tax Return – Filing a tax return isn’t necessarily required if you don’t owe money or if you’re owed a tax refund, but it’s not a good idea. Failing to file a return when you’re owed a refund puts you at risk of losing out on receiving the money you’ve owed – you have just three years to amend the problem if you want to get your money. For those who are in arrears to the IRS, there is a significant negative outcome to failing to file a return, including having to pay a “failure to file” penalty that can go as high as 25 percent of your unpaid tax bill: 5 percent of the amount you owe, plus interest, will be charged for each month for up to five months
  • You Owe the IRS for Taxes Not Paid – When the IRS calculates that you have not paid them the full amount that you owe, they will send you notification of what they believe the difference is via form CP14.
  • You Owe the IRS Penalties and Fees – When you don’t pay your taxes or you fail to file a return, the IRS will notify you that you owe them penalties, and possibly interest.
  • You Owe the IRS But Can’t Afford to Pay – There are many taxpayers who find themselves facing a tax bill that they are simply unable to pay all at once. If you fall into this category, the IRS does offer the option of paying in installments. To request this type of payment plan, contact the agency. If even paying in small increments is outside of your ability, you may be able to negotiate a reduced tax bill through what is called an Offer in Compromise.
  • Tax Debt Resulting in Tax Levy – If you are unable or unwilling to satisfy your tax debt, the IRS may opt for a tax levy, which is the legal seizure of your property in lieu of payment. A tax levy can take the form of real property such as real estate, your vehicle or personal property, or your wages, the money in your bank accounts or your financial accounts. Notification that a levy is being issued against you comes via either notice LT11, CP504, CP90, or CP91.
  • Notification that A Tax Lien Has Been Filed – If you have failed to pay your tax debt, the IRS may take action to protect its own interests ahead of other creditors by filing a tax lien. This comes in the form of Letter 3172, which will be sent to both you and your other creditors to let them know of the government’s claim against your financial assets, personal property and real estate. By sending this letter out, the government ensures that it will benefit from the liquidation of any of your property in order to satisfy the amount that it is owed. Once a lien has been placed on your property, it is extremely difficult to get out of until you’ve paid up.

A notification from the IRS is not something to be ignored. The best step is to take a deep breath, read the notice carefully, and contact our office for assistance.

Making Two IRA Rollovers in One Year Can Be Costly

Tax law allows you to take a distribution from your IRA account, and as long as you return the distribution to your IRA within 60 days, there are no tax ramifications. However, many taxpayers overlook that you are only allowed to take a distribution once in a 12-month period, and violating this rule can have unexpected tax ramifications.

The one-year period is measured based on the date a distribution is received. If the second distribution is received before the same date one year later, it is a disqualified rollover.

Example – Jack takes a distribution from his IRA on June 30 of year one and subsequently rolls over the distribution (puts the funds back into the IRA) within the 60-day rollover period. Jack must wait until June 30 of year two before another distribution is eligible for a rollover. Any additional distributions taken during the one-year waiting period would be taxable.

Example – A taxpayer received a distribution from his IRA with Chase bank in February, which he immediately rolled into a new IRA with Wells Fargo. Then, in May, he took a distribution from the Wells Fargo IRA and rolled it back into the IRA at Wells within 60 days. Even though he rolled the exact amount back into the same institution within 60 days, the distribution from Chase had started the running of the one-year waiting period. Thus, his second distribution was in violation of the one-year waiting period and was a taxable distribution. The redeposit of what he thought was a rollover was actually a contribution to the IRA.

Like everything taxes, there are exceptions to the one-year rule, including the following:

Direct Transfers – As long as IRA funds are transferred directly between trustees, the transaction is not considered a rollover. A taxpayer can make as many direct transfers in a year as he or she wants; in fact, utilizing direct transfers is the preferred way to move funds from one IRA to another because it eliminates certain tax-return reporting issues.

  • Roth Conversions – Traditional IRA to Roth IRA conversions are not considered rollovers for purposes of the one-year rule.
  • Distributions to and from Qualified Plans – Since the one-year rule only applies to IRA-to-IRA rollovers, rollovers to and from other types of retirement plans are not governed by the one-year rule. However, SEPS and SIMPLE plans are treated as an IRA for purposes of the one-year waiting period.
  • Failed Financial Institutions – An IRA distribution made from a failed financial institution by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is generally disregarded for purposes of applying the one-rollover-per-year limitation.

Tax Consequences – When the one-year rule is violated, any distribution after the first made within the one-year waiting period will not be treated as a rollover, with the following tax consequences:

  • Traditional IRA – In the case of a traditional IRA, the entire distribution will be taxable, and if the taxpayer is under age 59½ at the time of the distribution, the 10% early distribution penalty will apply to the taxable portion.
  • Roth IRA – In the case of a Roth IRA that is a:
    o Non-Qualified Distribution – A non-qualified distribution is one where the Roth IRA has not met the five-year aging requirements. Five-year aging generally means the Roth IRA has been in existence for a continuous period of five years, although the first and last years do not need to be full years. A distribution from a Roth IRA that has not met the five-year aging requirements would be a non-qualified distribution, and the earnings would be taxable. Of course, the original contributions are never taxable based on a specific distribution sequence: contributions, then conversions from traditional IRAs or rollovers from qualified plans (first the part that was taxed when the funds went into the Roth and then the nontaxable part), and lastly earnings. A 10% early distribution penalty applies to any amount attributable to the part of the conversion or rollover amount that had to be included in income at the time of the conversion or rollover (the recapture amount).
    o Qualified Distribution – No tax or penalty applies if a distribution from a Roth IRA is a “qualified distribution,” which is a distribution made after the five-year aging period is met if the taxpayer:

    – Is age 59½ or older,
    – Is disabled,
    – Is deceased, or
    – Qualifies for the first-time homebuyer exception (maximum $10,000).

Disqualified Rollover – An additional problem arises because the disqualified rollover amount will be treated as an IRA contribution, subject to the normal annual contribution and AGI limitations. Tax law includes a penalty when someone contributes more than is allowed (excess contribution). Thus, an excess contribution (except for on the year of the distribution) would be subject, annually, to a 6% excess contribution penalty.

There are a couple of possible remedies available for a disqualified rollover:

  • Corrective Distribution – The excess contribution and the interest attributable to it can be withdrawn by the extended due date of the return for the year the distribution was made, thus undoing the rollover. The distribution that resulted in a disqualified rollover will be subject to tax, as outlined earlier, depending upon whether it was a traditional or Roth IRA. The earnings attributable to withdrawn funds are taxable. However, the annual 6% excess contribution penalty is avoided.
  • Contributions in Future Years – The excess contribution could be left in the IRA and can be treated as an IRA contribution for a later year. However, until the excess contribution is fully absorbed as eligible future contributions, the annual 6% excess contribution penalty will apply.

Early Withdrawal Penalty – If the disallowed rollover occurs before reaching age 59½, an early distribution penalty of 10% of the taxable amount will apply and is in addition to the normal tax.

Although there are a number of exceptions to the under-age-59½ early distribution penalty, the following might be used to avoid or mitigate an early withdrawal penalty associated with a disqualified rollover:

  • Contributions Returned before the Due Date – If the taxpayer already made an IRA contribution for the tax year, the amount of that contribution can be withdrawn tax-free by the extended due date of the tax return, provided:
1. The taxpayer did not take a deduction for the contributions withdrawn, and
2. The taxpayer also withdraws any interest or other income earned on the contributions, and
3. The taxpayer includes in income, for the year during which the withdrawal was made, any earnings on the contributions withdrawn.
  • Medical Insurance Exception – The amount that is exempt from the penalty is the amount the taxpayer paid during the year for medical insurance for the taxpayer and his or her spouse and dependents. To qualify for this exception, the taxpayer must have:
1. Lost his/her job,
2. Received unemployment compensation for 12 consecutive weeks,
3. Made IRA withdrawals during the year he/she received unemployment or in the following year, and
4. Made the withdrawals no later than 60 days after being reemployed.
  • Higher Education Expense Exception – The part not subject to the penalty is generally the amount that is not more than the qualified higher education expenses for the taxpayer and his or her spouse, children, or grandchildren for the year at an eligible educational institution.

The bottom line is to make sure you don’t have more than one IRA rollover in a year. However, if you inadvertently do, please call us as soon as you realize the error so we can determine what actions can be taken to mitigate the resulting taxes and penalties.

Hardship Exemption Rules

The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) included a “shared responsibility payment,” which in reality is a penalty for not having health insurance. Along with this penalty came a whole slew of exemptions from the penalty, including some that were designated as “hardship” exemptions. However, the hardship relief from the penalty required pre-approval from the government health insurance marketplace, which required the applicant to provide documentary evidence of the hardship. Once approved, the applicant was issued an exemption certificate number (ECN) that needed to be included on the individual’s tax return to avoid the penalty.

Hours after being sworn in, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at reversing the Affordable Care Act. The executive order states that the Trump administration will “seek prompt repeal” of the law. To minimize the “economic burden” of Obamacare, the order instructs the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and other agency heads to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation” of any part of the law that places a fiscal burden on the government, businesses or individuals.

As a result of President Trump’s executive order, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced on September 12, 2018, that consumers can claim a hardship exemption for not purchasing insurance and avoid the penalty for not being insured for 2018, either by:

  • Obtaining an ECN through the existing application process or
  • Simply entering the hardship code on their federal income tax return (a form of self-certification).

However, the CMS cautioned that consumers should keep any documentation that demonstrates qualification for the hardship exemption with their other tax records.

The following are the more common hardship exemptions affected by this change. For a complete list and additional details related to qualifying for these hardships, visit the CMS website.

  • Homelessness
  • Being evicted or facing eviction or foreclosure
  • Receiving a shut-off notice from a utility company
  • Experiencing domestic violence
  • Death of family member
  • Fire, flood or other disaster that caused substantial damage
  • Bankruptcy
  • Medical expenses that can’t be paid, resulting in substantial debt
  • Increased medical expenses to care for a member of the family
  • Claiming a child who has been denied Medicaid or CHIP coverage
  • Ineligibility for coverage because the state didn’t expand Medicaid

The shared responsibility payment and exemptions are determined on a monthly basis, and a person is eligible for a hardship exemption for at least the month before, the month(s) during and the month after the specific event or circumstance that creates the hardship.

There are a variety of other exemptions in addition to the hardship exemptions, and 2018 is the final year the shared responsibility payment will be assessed. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (tax reform) has eliminated the penalty beginning in 2019.

If you have any questions related to the penalty for not having health insurance and the the penalty exemptions, please contact us.

Tax Reform Enables Deferral of Taxable Gains Into Investments in Opportunity Zones

Those who have a large capital gain from the sale of a stock, asset, or business and who would like to defer that gain with the possibility of excluding some of it from taxation should investigate a new investment called a qualified opportunity fund (QOF), which was created as part of the recent tax reform.

To help communities that have not recovered from the past decade’s economic downturn, lawmakers included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 the new code Sections 1400Z-1 and 1400Z-2, which are intended to promote investments in certain economically distressed communities through QOFs. Investments in QOFs provide unique tax incentives that lawmakers designed to encourage taxpayers to participate in these funds.

Reinvesting Gains – TCJA of 2017 provides a taxpayer who has a capital gain from selling or exchanging any property to an unrelated party prior to January 1, 2027 may elect to defer that gain if it is reinvested in a QOF within 180 days of the sale or exchange. Only one election may be made with respect to a given sale or exchange. If the taxpayer reinvests less than the full amount of the gain in the QOF, the remainder is taxable in the sale year, as usual. The amount of the gain – not the amount of the sale’s proceeds, as in Sec 1031 deferrals – needs to be reinvested in order to defer the gain. There are special rules for capital gains from mutual fund dividends, REITs, and pass-through entities.

The gain income is deferred until the date when the QOF investment is sold or December 31, 2026 – whichever is earlier. At that time, the taxpayer includes the lesser of the following amounts as taxable income:

a. The deferred gain
b. The fair market value of the investment, as determined at the end of the deferral period, reduced by the taxpayer’s basis in the property. (Basis is explained below.) A taxpayer who holds a QOF investment for 10 years or more before selling it can permanently exclude the gain from the sale that is in excess of the originally deferred gain (i.e., the appreciation) by electing to treat the basis as being equal to the fair market value of the investment.

Qualified Opportunity Fund Basis – The basis of a QOF that is purchased with a deferred gain is $0 unless either of the following increases applies:

(a) If the investment is held for 5 years, the QOF’s basis increases from $0 to 10% of the deferred gain.

(b) If the investment is held for 7 years, the QOF’s basis increases from $0 to 15% of the deferred gain.

If on December 31, 2026 a taxpayer holds a QOF that was purchased with deferred gains, gain must be included in income on the 2026 tax return to the extent of the lesser of the deferred gain or the FMV on December 31, 2026 over the basis in the investment. The basis of the investment will then be increased by the amount of this included gain.

If the QOF investment is held for at least 10 years before being sold, the taxpayer can elect to increase the basis to the property’s fair market value. This adjustment means that the QOF’s appreciation is not taxable when it is sold.

Example 1: On June 30, 2018, Phil sold a rental apartment building for $3 million, resulting in a gain of $1 million. Within the statutory 180-day window, he invested that $1 million into a QOF and elected to take the temporary gain deferral exclusion. On July 1, 2026, he then sold the QOF for $1.5 million. Because Phil held the investment for over 7 years, its basis is enhanced by $150,000 (15% of $1 million). Because the investment’s fair market value is greater than the original deferred gain, he must include a taxable gain of $1.35 million ($1.5 million – $150,000) in his 2026 gross income.

Example 2: The facts here are the same as in Example 1, except Phil waited to sell the QOF until 2030, meaning that he held it for nearly 12 years. Because he had the investment on December 31, 2026, he was required to include $850,000 ($1 million – $150,000) of deferred gain on his 2026 return, and his basis in the QOF was increased by $850,000. After selling the QOF for $1.5 million, Phil elected to permanently exclude the gain by increasing his basis to $1.5 million (the fair market value on the date of the sale). Thus, he has no gain ($1.5 million – $1.5 million) in 2030.

Mixed Investments – If a taxpayer’s investment in a QOF consists of both deferred gains and additional investment funds, it is treated as two investments; this provides the tax benefits of both types. However, the temporary gain deferral and the permanent gain exclusion only apply to the deferred gain elected amount and not the additional investment funds.

Qualified Opportunity Funds – To defer capital gains-related taxes through the recently enacted opportunity-zone program, taxpayers must invest in a QOF – an investment vehicle that is organized as a corporation or a partnership for the purpose of investing in properties within qualified opportunity zones. These investments cannot be in another QOF, and the properties must have been acquired after December 31, 2017. The fund must hold at least 90% of its assets in the qualified-opportunity-zone property, as determined by averaging the percentage held in the fund on the last days of the two 6-month periods of the fund’s tax year. Taxpayers may not invest directly in qualified opportunity zone property.

Partnerships – Because a QOF that is purchased with deferred capital gains has a basis of zero, taxpayers who invest in QOFs that are organized as partnerships may be limited to deducting the losses that these partnerships generate.

Qualified Opportunity Zones – A low-income census tract can be specifically designated as a qualified opportunity zone after a nomination from the governor of that community’s state or territory. Once the qualified opportunity zone nomination is received in writing, the treasury secretary can certify the community as a qualified opportunity zone. Once certified, zones retain this designation for 10 years. At this point, most Opportunity Zones have been designated and certified. An example of where to find information can be found here.

Proposed Regulations have been issued, and the Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service will provide further details regarding this new incentive in the near future, including additional legal guidance and an outline of the procedure for electing to defer a gain. If you have questions, please give us a call.