Eldercare Can Be a Medical Deduction

Article Highlights:

  • Nursing Homes
  • Meals and Lodging
  • Home Care
  • Nursing Services
  • Caregiver Agencies
  • Household Employees

Because people are living longer now than ever before, many individuals are serving as care providers for loved ones (such as parents or spouses) who cannot live independently. Such individuals often have questions regarding the tax ramifications associated with the cost of such care. For these individuals, the cost of such care may be deductible as a medical expense.

Incapable of Self-Care – For the cost of caring for another person to qualify as a deductible medical expense, the person being cared for must be incapable of self-care. A person is considered incapable of self-care if, as a result of a physical or mental defect, that person is incapable of fulfilling his or her own hygiene or nutritional needs or if that person requires full-time care to ensure his or her own safety or the safety of others.

Assisted-Living Facilities – Generally, the entire cost of care at a nursing home, home for the aged, or assisted-living facility is deductible as a medical expense, provided that the person who lives at the facility is primarily there for medical care or is incapable of self-care. This includes the entire cost of meals and lodging at the facility. On the other hand, if the person is living at the facility primarily for personal reasons, then only the expenses that are directly related to medical care are deductible; the cost of meals and lodging is not a deductible medical expense.

Home Care – A common alternative to nursing homes is in-home care, in which day helpers or live-in caregivers provide care within the home. The services that these caregivers provide must be allocated into (nondeductible) household chores and (deductible) nursing services. These nursing services need not actually be provided by a nurse; they simply must be the same services that a nurse would normally provide (e.g., administering medication, bathing, feeding, and dressing). If the caregivers also provide general housekeeping services, then the portion of their pay that is attributable to household chores is not deductible.

The emotional and financial aspects of caring for a loved one can be overwhelming, and as a result, caregivers often overlook their burdensome tax and labor-law obligations. Sadly, these laws provide for no special relief from these tasks.

Is the Caregiver an Employee? – Because of the way that labor laws are written, it is important to determine if an in-home caregiver is an employee. The answer to this question can be very subjective. Caregivers’ services can be obtained in several ways:

  • Agency-provided caregivers are employees of the agency, which handles all the responsibilities of an employer. Thus, loved ones do not have any employment-tax or payroll-reporting responsibilities; however, such caregivers generally come at a substantially higher cost than others.
  • Self-employed caregivers pay all their expenses, are responsible for their own income reporting and taxes, and are not considered employees under federal or state law. The IRS lists 20 factors that it uses to determine whether an individual is an employee; the main factors are financial control, behavioral control, and the relationship between the parties. The household workers are typically classified as employees.
  • Household employees are subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes. The employer is thus responsible for withholding the employee’s share of these taxes and paying the employer’s share of payroll taxes. Fortunately for these employers, the special rules for household employees greatly simplify the payroll-withholding and income-reporting requirements. Any resulting federal payroll taxes are paid annually in conjunction with the employer’s individual 1040 tax return. Federal income-tax withholding is not required unless both the employer and the employee agree to do so. However, the employer is still required to issue a W-2 to the employee and to file that form with the federal government. The employer also must obtain federal and state employer ID numbers for reporting purposes. Some states have special provisions for the annual reporting and payment of state payroll taxes; these may be like the federal requirements.

    The employer’s portion of all employment taxes (Social Security, Medicare, and both federal and state unemployment taxes) related to deductible medical expenses are also deductible as a medical expense.

You may be thinking, “Wait a minute – the household employers I know pay in cash and do not pay payroll taxes or issue W-2s to their household employees.” This observation may be accurate, but such behavior is illegal, and it is not right to ignore the law. Think about what could happen if one of your household employees is injured on your property or if you dismiss such an employee under less-than-amicable circumstances. In such circumstances, the household employee will often be eager to report you to the state labor board or to file for unemployment compensation.

Note, however, that gardeners, pool cleaners, and repair people generally work on their own schedules, invest in their own equipment, have special skills, manage their own businesses, and bear the responsibility for any profit or loss. Such workers are not considered household employees.

Here are some additional issues to consider:

Overtime – Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, domestic employees are nonexempt workers and are entitled to overtime pay for any work beyond 40 hours in a given week. However, live-in employees are an exception to this rule in most states.

Hourly Pay or Salary – It is illegal to treat nonexempt employees as if they are salaried.

Separate Payrolls – Business owners may be tempted to include their household employees on their companies’ payrolls. However, any payments to household employees are personal expenses and thus are not allowable as business deductions. Thus, business owners must maintain separate payrolls for household employees; in other words, personal funds (not business funds) must be used to pay household workers.

Eligibility to Work in the U.S. – It is illegal to knowingly hire or continue to employ an alien who is not legally eligible to work in the U.S. When a household employee is hired to work on a regular basis, the employer and employee each must complete Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification). The employer must carefully examine the employee’s documents to establish his or her identity and employment eligibility.

If you have questions related to eldercare or about how your state deals with related employment issues – or if you would like assistance in setting up a household payroll system – please contact us.

What to Do If You Receive a Dreaded IRS Letter

Article Highlights:

  • IRS Notices
  • CP Series Notice
  • Automated Notices
  • Frequent Errors
  • ID Theft
  • What You Should Do
  • What We Will Do

Now that most tax refunds are deposited directly into taxpayers’ bank accounts, the dream of opening your mailbox and finding an IRS refund is all but gone. However, the IRS still sends letters that can increase taxpayers’ heart rates; because of extensive computer matching, the IRS does most of its auditing through correspondence.

CP-Series Notice – When the IRS detects a potential issue with your tax return, it will contact you via U.S. mail; this is called a CP-series notice. Please note that the IRS’s first contact about a tax delinquency or discrepancy will never be a phone call or email. Such calls and emails are a common tool for scammers; if you get one, simply hang up the phone or delete the email. If you are concerned about the validity of a given message, please contact us.

Most commonly, CP notices describe the proposed tax due, as well as any interest or penalties. The notice will also explain the examination process and describe how you can respond.

These automated notices are sent out year-round, and they are quite common. As the IRS tries to close the tax revenue gap, it has become more aggressive in its collection efforts. In addition, as many taxpayers now use low-quality tax mills or do-it-yourself software, the number of notices sent because of preparer error have increased. Missed checkboxes, misunderstandings of available credits, and overlooked income all add up to more errors.

The first step in this automated process involves matching what you reported on your tax return to the data that third parties (e.g., employers, banks, and brokers) reported. When this information does not agree, the automated collection effort begins.

Don’t Panic – These notices often include errors. However, you do need to respond before the 30-day deadline or else face significant repercussions. The notice may even be related to suspected ID theft. For instance, someone may have gained access to your tax ID (or that of your spouse or one of your dependents) and tried to file a return using the stolen ID. The first step is to determine which type of notice you have received.

A CP2000 notice is very different from the other CP notices (which deal with issues such as identify theft, audits, and the earned income credit,). The CP2000 notice includes a proposed—almost always unfavorable—change to your tax return, and it gives you the opportunity to dispute the proposed change. Procrastinating or ignoring this notice will only cause the IRS to ratchet up its collection efforts, which in turn will make it more difficult for you to dispute the proposed adjustment.

Sometimes, the IRS will be correct. You may have overlooked a capital gain or income from a second job. It is also possible that the IRS has caught someone else using your SSN to work or otherwise stealing your identity. Quite frequently, however, the IRS is incorrect, simply because its software isn’t sophisticated enough to pick up all the information that you report on the schedules attached to your return.

When you receive an IRS notice, your first step should be to immediately contact us and provide us with a copy of the notice. We will review the notice to determine whether it is correct, and then we will consult with you to determine how best to respond. If you have any questions, please contact us.

Why Tax Basis Is So Important

Article Highlights:

  • Definition of Tax Basis
  • Cost Basis
  • Adjusted Basis
  • Gift Basis
  • Inherited Basis
  • Record Keeping

For tax purposes, the term “basis” refers to the original monetary value that is used to measure a gain or loss. For instance, if you purchase shares of a stock for $1,000, your basis in that stock is $1,000; if you then sell those shares for $3,000, the gain is calculated based on the difference between the sales price and the basis: $3,000 – $1,000 = $2,000. This is a simplified example, of course—under actual circumstances, purchase and sale costs are added to the basis of the stock—but it introduces the concept of tax basis. The basis of an asset is very important because it is used to calculate deductions for depreciation, casualties, and depletion, as well as gains or losses on the disposition of that asset.

The basis is not always equal to the original purchase cost. It is determined in a different way for purchases, gifts, and inheritances. In addition, the basis is not a fixed value, as it can increase as a result of improvements or decrease as a result of business depreciation or casualty losses. This article explores how the basis is determined in various circumstances.

Cost Basis – The cost basis (or unadjusted basis) is the amount originally paid for an item before any improvements and before any business depreciation, expensing, or adjustments as a result of a casualty loss.

Adjusted Basis – The adjusted basis starts with the original cost basis (or gift or inherited basis), then incorporates the following adjustments:

  • increases for any improvements (not including repairs),
  • reductions for any claimed business depreciation or expensing deductions, and
  • reductions for any claimed personal or business casualty-loss deductions.

Example: You purchased a home for $250,000, which is the cost basis. You added a room for $50,000 and a solar electric system for $25,000, then replaced the old windows with energy-efficient double-paned windows at a cost of $36,000. The adjusted basis is thus $250,000 + $50,000 + $25,000 + $36,000 = $361,000. Your payments for repairs and repainting, however, are maintenance expenses; they are not tax deductible and do not add to the basis.

Example: As the owner of a welding company, you purchased a portable trailer-mounted welder and generator for $6,000. After owning it for 3 years, you then decide to sell it and buy a larger one. During this period, you used it in your business and deducted $3,376 in related deprecation on your tax returns. Thus, the adjusted basis of the welder is $6,000 – $3,376 = $2,624.

Keeping records regarding improvements is extremely important, but this task is sometimes overlooked, especially for home improvements. Generally, you need to keep the records of all improvements for 3 years (and perhaps longer, depending on your state’s rules) after you have filed the return on which you report the disposition of the asset.

Gift Basis – If you receive a gift, you assume the donor’s adjusted basis for that asset; in effect, the donor transfers any taxable gain from the sale of the asset to you.

Example: Your mother gives you stock shares that have a market value of $15,000 at the time of the gift. However, your mother originally purchased the shares for $5,000. You assume your mother’s basis of $5,000; if you then immediately sell the shares, your taxable gain is $15,000 – $5,000 = $10,000.

There is one significant catch: If the fair market value (FMV) of the gift is less than the donor’s adjusted basis, and if you then sell it for a loss, your basis for determining the loss is the gift’s FMV on the date of the gift.

Example: Again, say that your mother purchased stock shares for $5,000. However, this time, the shares were worth $4,000 when she gave them to you, and you subsequently sold them for $3,000. In this case, your tax-deductible loss is only $1,000 (the sales price of $3,000 minus the $4,000 FMV on the date of the gift), not $2,000 ($3,000 minus your mother’s $5,000 basis).

Inherited Basis – Generally, a beneficiary who inherits an asset uses its FMV on the date when the owner died as the tax basis. This is because the tax on the decedent’s estate is based on the FMV of the decedent’s assets at the time of death. Normally, inherited assets receive a step up (increased) in basis. However, if an asset’s FMV is less than the decedent’s basis, then the beneficiary’s basis is stepped down (reduced).

Example: You inherit your uncle’s home after he dies. Your uncle’s adjusted basis in the home was $50,000, but he purchased the home 25 years ago, and its FMV is now $400,000. Your basis in the home is equal to its FMV: $400,000.

Example: You inherit your uncle’s car after he dies. Your uncle’s adjusted basis in the car was $50,000, but he purchased the car 5 years ago, and its FMV is now $20,000. Your basis in the car is equal to its FMV: $20,000.

An inherited asset’s FMV is very important because it is used when determining the gain or loss after the sale of that asset. If an estate’s executor is unable to provide FMV information, the beneficiary should obtain the necessary appraisals. Generally, if you sell an inherited item in an arm’s-length transaction within a short time, the sales price can be used as the FMV. A simple example of not at arm’s length is the sale of a home from parents to children. The parents might wish to sell the property to their children at a price below market value, but such a transaction might later be classified by a court as a gift rather than a bona fide sale, which could have tax and other legal consequences.

For vehicles, online valuation tools such as Kelly Blue Book can be used to determine FMV. The value of publicly traded stocks can similarly be determined using Website tools. On the other hand, for real estate and businesses, valuations generally require the use of certified appraisal services.

The foregoing is only a general overview of how basis applies to taxes. If you have any questions, please contact us.

Forget Something on Your 2018 Return?

Article Highlights:

  • Tax Reform Problems
  • Corrected 1099s and K-1s
  • Overlooked Income and Deductions
  • Marital Issues
  • Mitigating Penalties
  • The Need for Prompt Amendments

If you forgot to include necessary information on your 2018 return, you are not alone. Additionally, you may have received a revised 1099 or K-1 since filing your return. The IRS has struggled to deal with the enormity of the changes in the recent tax reform; despite significant pressure to update its regulations, forms, and publications, the IRS could not finish all its tax-reform updates in a timely manner. Some IRS publications still have not been updated for 2018, and others even include errors. The new tax regulations have been dribbling out, but the IRS still has not provided enough guidance for some issues.

As a result of this uncertainty, you may receive a corrected 1099 or K-1. You may also need to update your return because, like most taxpayers, you did not fully comprehend all the provisions of the new tax law thus failing to include an item of income, deduction, or credit. You also may have simply overlooked an item of income or missed a significant deduction. These mistakes happen, which is why the IRS and state tax agencies allow for amended tax returns.

A failure to report an item of income will generate an IRS inquiry; this typically happens a year or so after the filing of the original return—which is after the interest and penalties have built up. On the other hand, if you forgot a deduction and are owed a refund, you should not let that go by the wayside.

In some cases, marital problems lead taxpayers to file incorrectly—for instance, by incorrectly claiming children or not allocating income correctly. These and a myriad of other issues can be corrected by amending the returns. As a warning, please note that if you are married and filed a joint return, you cannot amend to file separate returns. However, a married couple’s separate returns can be amended into a single joint return.

Regardless of the issue, the solution is to file an amended return as soon as possible. This will minimize the penalties and interest in the case of omitted income and will also prevent you from getting those annoying letters from the IRS. Amended returns can also be used to claim an overlooked credit, to correct your filing status or number of dependents, to report an omitted investment transaction, to submit a delayed K-1, or to include any other information that should have been on the original return.

If an overlooked item results in a tax increase, filing the amended return quickly will mitigate the penalties and interest. Procrastination will lead to further complications when the IRS eventually determines that information is missing, so it is always best to take care of the issue right away.

Generally, to claim a refund on an amended return, you must file the amendment within three years of the date when you filed the original return, or within two years of the date when you paid the tax—whichever is later.

If any of these issues apply to you, please contact us so that we can prepare the necessary amended returns.

So, You’ve Made a Mistake on Your Tax Return. What Happens Now?

Tax return mistakes are a lot more common than you probably realize. Taxes are naturally complicated, and the paperwork required to file them properly is often convoluted. This is especially true if you’re filing your taxes yourself — and all of this is in reference to a normal year as far as the IRS is concerned.

The 2018 tax year, however, certainly does not qualify as a “normal year.”

With the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, even seasoned financial professionals are having a hard time digesting all the changes that they and their clients are now dealing with. All of this is to say that if you’ve just discovered that you’ve made a big mistake on your tax return this year, the first thing you should do is stop and take a deep breath. It happens. It’s understandable. There are steps that you can take to correct the situation quickly — you just need to keep a few key things in mind.

Fixing Tax Return Mistakes: Here’s What You Need to Do

All told, you have three years from the date that you originally filed your tax return (or two years from the date you paid the tax bill in question) to make any corrections necessary to fix your mistakes. If nothing about your return ultimately changes, you probably don’t have anything to worry about — in fact, there’s a good chance that the IRS will catch the mistake and fix it themselves. This is especially true in terms of math errors, or if you’ve left out an important document. The IRS will probably send you a letter letting you know what happened and what you need to do to correct it.

If fixing the mistake ultimately results in you owing more taxes, you should pay that difference as quickly as possible. Penalties and interest will keep accruing on that unpaid portion of your bill for as long as it takes for you to pay it, so it’s in your best interest to take care of this as soon as you can afford to do so.

If you’ve made a much larger mistake (like if you understated or overstated your income, for example), you’ll need to file what is called an amended tax return. This is essentially your “second chance” at getting things right, and the timetable above still applies. Understand, however, that ALL errors must be corrected in the amended return. This means that if you find three errors that will reduce your tax liability and two that increase it, you are legally required to correct all five. You can’t correct only the mistakes that benefit you.

An amended return can be used to correct a variety of issues, including but not limited to issues such as:

  • Overstating or understating your income
  • Changing an incorrect filing status
  • Accounting for dependents
  • Taking care of discrepancies in terms of deductions or tax credits

If any of the above apply to the error you’ve just discovered, you can — and absolutely should — file an amended return.

A sudden increase in your tax liability notwithstanding, it’s again important to understand that even “major” errors on your income taxes aren’t worth stressing out about. The IRS understands that sometimes mistakes happen, and they have a variety of processes in place designed to help make things right.

This does, however, underline how valuable it can be to partner with the right financial professional to do your taxes next year. You have a career and a life to lead — you’re probably not going to be up-to-date on every small change that rolls out in the tax code, but our financial professionals will.

If nothing else, this will help generate some much-needed peace-of-mind regarding the accuracy of your return. You won’t have to worry about whether the IRS is going to find a mistake down the road because you’ve dramatically reduced the chances of those mistakes happening in the first place. Please contact us to discuss your unique situation and how we can be of assistance.

Tax Benefits for Members of the Military

Article Highlights:

  • Service Member Residence or Domicile
  • Service Member Spouse’s Residence or Domicile
  • Non-Taxable Allowances
  • Combat Zone Exclusion
  • Home Mortgage Interest Deduction
  • Home Property Tax Deduction
  • Home Sale Gain Exclusion
  • Moving Deduction
  • Death Gratuity Payments
  • Child Credit
  • Earned Income Tax Credit
  • IRA Contributions
  • Reservist’s Travel Expenses
  • Qualified Reservist’s Pension Withdrawals
  • Retired Military Disability Compensation

Military members benefit from a variety of special tax benefits. These include certain non-taxable allowances, non-taxable combat pay, and a variety of other special tax provisions. Here is a rundown on the most prominent of the tax benefits.

Service Member Residence or Domicile – A frequent question by service members is “What is my state of residence for tax purposes?” since one’s duty station may change multiple times while serving. Luckily, the government passed a law to solve this issue. A service member continues to retain his or her home state of residence for tax purposes, even when required to move to another state under military orders. This also applies to other tax jurisdictions within a state, such as for city, county, and personal property taxes. Thus, a service member will continue to file tax returns for his or her home state and not the state where he or she is stationed.

Service Member Spouse’s Residence or Domicile – In order to simplify the tax-filing requirements of military couples, the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act of 2009 allowed military spouses to claim the same state of domicile as their service member for tax purposes, provided they had also established domicile there.

As an example, say Chris resides in California with his spouse, who is in the military, and Chris has earned income in California but had established domicile with his military spouse in Virginia. Chris would be subject to Virginia income tax laws instead of those of California, and the couple would need to file only one state return – in this case, Virginia. They have no obligation to file a California return.

Unfortunately, spouses who had not established domicile in the same state as their service member spouse, and who had earned income in the state where their spouse was stationed, were still required to file with both states (assuming both states have income tax).

More Choices following 2018 – Thanks to the Veterans Benefits and Transaction Act of 2018, an individual married to a military member now has more choices. Under the Act, a spouse can elect to have the same state of domicile as their service member spouse, even if they didn’t previously have the same domicile. If the non-military spouse doesn’t make that election, they can continue to choose to file in their own domicile state.

Making these choices can significantly impact the amount of state tax the spouse might have to pay. As an example, a spouse of a service member stationed in a high-income-tax state can elect to use the state of residency of the service member whose residence state has no or low state income tax and not be subject to the state taxes where his or her spouse is stationed.

Careful – It is tempting for a service member or their military spouse to declare their state of domicile to be without any state income tax such as Texas, Nevada, Florida, etc. That can get them in hot water if they do so without any connections to the state.

Non-Taxable Allowances – Members of the military benefit from several non-taxable allowances including:

  • Living allowances – Basic allowance for housing (BAH), cost-of-living allowances abroad, and overseas housing allowance whether paid by the U.S. Government or by a foreign government.
  • Family allowances – certain educational expenses for dependents, emergencies, evacuation to a place of safety and separation.
  • Death allowances – Burial services, death gratuity payments to eligible survivors, and travel of dependents to burial sites.
  • Moving allowances – Including for relocation, move-in housing, moving household and personal items, moving trailers or mobile homes, storage, temporary lodging and temporary lodging expenses, and military base realignment and closure benefits.
  • Travel allowances – Including annual round trips for dependent students, leave between consecutive overseas tours, reassignment in a dependent-restricted status, transportation for military taxpayers and dependents during ship overhaul or inactivation, and per diem.
  • State benefit payments – Any bonus payment made by a state or political subdivision to any member or former member of the U.S. uniformed services, or to his or her dependent, only because of the member’s service in a “combat zone,” is generally treated as a “qualified military benefit”, excludable from gross income.
  • Other payments – Defense counseling, disability (including payments received for injuries incurred as a direct result of a terrorist or military action), group term life insurance, professional education, ROTC educational and subsistence allowances, survivor and retirement protection plan premiums, uniform allowances, and uniforms furnished to enlisted personnel.
  • In-kind military benefits – Including legal assistance benefits, space-available travel on government aircraft, medical/dental care, and commissary/exchange discounts.

Combat Zone Exclusion – A member of the U.S. Armed Forces who serves in a combat zone can exclude certain pay from income. This pay includes active duty pay earned in any month served in a combat zone; imminent danger/hostile fire pay; a reenlistment bonus, if the voluntary extension or reenlistment occurs during a month served in a combat zone; accrued leave pay earned in any month served in a combat zone; awards for suggestions, inventions, or scientific achievements the service member is entitled to because of a submission made in a month served in a combat zone; and student loan repayments attributable to the period of service in a combat zone (provided a full year’s service is performed to earn the repayment). Any part of a month in a combat zone counts as an entire month. Periods when one is hospitalized as the result of wounds, disease, or injury in a combat zone are also excluded, provided the hospitalization begins within 2 years of combat zone activities. The hospitalization need not be in the combat zone. Generally, combat pay is not included in the individual’s pay reported on Form W-2.

Commissioned Officers – Commissioned officers may exclude their pay; however, the amount of their exclusion is limited to the highest rate of enlisted pay (plus imminent danger/hostile fire pay received).

Home Mortgage Interest Deduction – Military taxpayers who receive a non-taxable housing allowance and own a home can deduct the mortgage interest on their home as an itemized deduction, even if they are paid with the nontaxable military housing allowance pay. However, the home mortgage interest is still subject to the general rules for deducting home mortgage interest, meaning that for years 2018 through 2025, only home acquisition debt interest is deductible. Home acquisition debt is debt used to acquire, build, or substantially improve a home. Equity debt interest is no longer deductible for years 2018 through 2025.

Home Property Tax Deduction – Even though they receive a non-taxable housing allowance, a military taxpayer can still deduct their home’s property taxes as an itemized deduction. However, the tax reform limits real property tax and state/local income or sales tax deductions to $10,000 annually for years 2018 through 2025.

Home Sale Gain Exclusion – Most taxpayers can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 if filing married joint) of home gain if the home was owned and used as their main home for 2 of the 5 years preceding its sale. However, a military taxpayer may choose to suspend the 5-year test period for ownership and use during any period when the taxpayer (or spouse) serves on qualified official extended duty as a member of the Armed Forces. This means that the 2-year use test may be met even if, because of military service, the taxpayer did not actually live in his or her home for at least the required 2 years during the 5-year period ending on the date of sale.

For this exception to the usual test period, a taxpayer is on qualified official extended duty when at a duty station that is at least 50 miles from his or her main home, or while residing under orders in government housing for more than 90 days or for an indefinite period.

The suspension period cannot last more than 10 years and can be revoked by the taxpayer at any time. The 5-year period cannot be suspended for more than one property at a time.

Example – Sarge bought and moved into a home in 2011 that he lived in as his main home for 2½ years. For the next 6 years, he did not live in the home because he was on qualified official extended duty with the Army. He sold the home for a gain in 2019. To meet the use test, Sarge chooses to suspend the 5-year test period for the 6 years he was on qualifying official extended duty – he disregards those 6 years. Sarge’s 5-year test period consists of the 5 years before he went on qualifying official extended duty. He meets the ownership and use tests because he owned and lived in the home for 2½ years during this test period.

Moving Deduction – The tax reform suspended the moving deduction for all moves except for certain members of the Armed Forces, for years 2018 through 2025. Military taxpayers who are still allowed a moving deduction are those who are required to move because of a permanent change of station. However, the deduction is limited to the actual cost less any non-taxable moving allowance provided.

A permanent change of station includes a move from home to one’s first post of duty when appointed, reappointed, reinstated, called to active duty, enlisted or inducted; a move from one permanent post of duty to another permanent post of duty at a different duty station, even if the service member separates from the Armed Forces immediately or shortly after the move; and a move from one’s last post of duty to home or to a nearer point in the U.S. in connection with retirement, discharge, resignation, separation under honorable conditions, transfer, relief from active duty, temporary disability retirement, or transfer to a fleet reserve, if the move occurs generally within 1 year or the termination of active duty.

Death Gratuity Payments –Military death gratuity payments and amounts received under the service members’ group life insurance program are not taxable to eligible survivors. In addition, these amounts may be rolled over to a Roth IRA or Coverdell education savings account without regard to the limits that otherwise apply to other taxpayers.

Child Credit – Excluded combat pay is treated as earned income for purposes of determining the refundable portion of the child credit.

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – A taxpayer may elect to treat combat pay that is otherwise excluded from gross income as earned income for purposes of the EITC. Making this election for EITC purposes may or may not be advantageous. If the taxpayer has earned income below the maximum amount of earned income on which the credit is calculated, including the combat pay will increase the credit amount. On the other hand, if the taxpayer’s earned income is already in the phase-out range, electing to include combat pay as earned income will decrease the amount of credit that can be claimed.

IRA Contributions – For 2019, individuals can contribute up the $6,000 ($7,000 if age 50 or over) to their IRA accounts, subject to phase-out limits for certain higher-income individuals. However, any contribution is limited to the individual’s earned income for the year. For service members, their combat pay, even though it is not taxable, is treated as earned income for purposes of an IRA contribution.

Reservist’s Travel Expenses – Armed Forces reservists who travel more than 100 miles away from home and stay overnight in connection with service as a member of a reserve component can deduct travel expenses as an adjustment to gross income. Thus, this deduction can be taken even by taxpayers using the standard deduction. However, the expenses themselves are subject to certain limitations. Transportation, meals (subject to a 50% limit) and lodging qualify, but the deduction is limited to the amount the federal government pays its employees for travel expenses, i.e., the general federal government per diem rate for lodging, meals and incidental expenses applicable to the locale and the standard mileage rate for car expenses plus parking and ferry fees and tolls.

Qualified Reservists Pension Withdrawals – Qualified reservists are permitted penalty-free withdrawal from IRAs, 401(k)s and other arrangements if ordered or called to active duty.

A “qualified reservist distribution” is any distribution to an individual if the individual was, by reason of his being a member of a “reserve component”, ordered or called to active duty for a period in excess of 179 days, or an indefinite period and the distribution is made during the period beginning on the date of the order or call to active duty, and ending at the close of the active duty period.

Retired Military Disability Compensation – Disability compensation, as distinguished from retirement payments, are tax free and made by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some misinformation has circulated indicating that the disability is included in the retirement benefits paid by the Defense Finance and Accounting Services. That is not true since the disability payments are made by the Department of Veterans Affairs and those amounts are NOT included on a Form 1099-R issued by the Defense Finance and Accounting Services.

If you have questions related to military tax benefits, please contact us.

Tax Treatment of a Room Rental

Article Highlights:

  • Vacation Home Rental Rules
  • Order of Deductions
  • Loss Limitations
  • Expense Prorating

With the shortage of affordable housing these days, many homeowners are renting out rooms in their homes, providing themselves with some additional cash. Questions that are often raised regarding room rentals include: Is the income taxable? If so, how is it reported? What deductions are allowed? Can a loss be claimed? Answers to these questions follow.

If a taxpayer rents rooms or other spaces in a home and the rented portion does not have facilities (a bathroom and a kitchen) that would make it a dwelling unit on its own, the taxpayer and the renter may be considered to be occupying one dwelling unit. Thus, the “landlord” is mixing personal expenses with business expenses, a situation in which the tax code does not permit a loss.

As a result, the income and expenses are treated under the same rules as vacation home rentals and are reported on Schedule E, with prorated expenses deductible against the rental income in a specific order and no loss being allowed.

The deductions are claimed in the following order:

  1. First, mortgage interest and taxes.
  2. Next, operating expenses (examples: advertising, repairs, utilities, maintenance, insurance).
  3. Finally, depreciation.

If the result is a loss, the expenses are only allowed until the income is reduced to zero.

But some unusable expenses may be carried over to the next year, where again they and the next year’s expenses will be limited to the next year’s rental income.

Because the expenses are taken in a specific order, home mortgage interest and property taxes paid for the home (which, for many taxpayers, would be deductible anyway) are first deducted from the rental income. Next come the operating expenses, of which only $1,300 of $1,417 is deductible in this example, because that amount reduces the rental income to zero. Thus, $117 of the operating expenses and the depreciation are not deductible.

Any reasonable method for dividing the expenses may be used. The two most common methods for allocating expenses, such as mortgage interest and heat for the entire house, are based on the number of rooms and square footage of the home.

If you have questions related to renting a room or a vacation home, or about short-term rentals of your home, please contact us.

Tax Reform Muted the AMT: Holders of Incentive Stock Options, Take Note

Article Highlights:

  • Alternative Minimum Tax
  • Deterrent to Tax Shelters
  • Tax Reform Changes
  • Tax Deductions and Preferences
  • Incentive Stock Options
  • Tax Planning Opportunity

Although Congress, as part of the recent tax reform, promised to do away with the alternative minimum tax (AMT), it only did so for C corporations; as a result, the AMT still applies to individuals.

Congress originally developed the AMT in 1969 to prevent high-income individuals from using tax shelters to reduce their taxes. For the AMT, federal income tax is calculated without certain deductions and tax preferences. This tax applies if it is greater than the regularly computed income tax. Although it has since been indexed to inflation, the AMT at one point began to apply to middle-income taxpayers, who are not the intended targets of this punitive tax.

The AMT computation includes a tax-exempt amount, but this amount begins to phase out for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds a certain threshold (depending on their filing status). Although the tax reform did not eliminate the AMT, it did mute that tax considerably by increasing the AMT exemptions and by substantially raising the exemption-phaseout thresholds, as illustrated below. The exemptions and AGI phaseout thresholds will be inflation-adjusted in future years.

AMT EXEMPTIONS ($)
Status 2017 2018
Married Filing Jointly or Surviving Spouse 84,500 109,400
Single or Head of Household 54,300 70,300
Married Filing Separately 42,250 54,700

 

EXEMPTION-PHASEOUT AGI THRESHOLDS
Status 2017 2018
Married, Filing Jointly, or Surviving Spouse 160,900 1,000,000
Single or Head of Household 120,700 500,000
Married, Filing Separately 80,450 500,000

These are the tax deductions and preferences that most often affect the average taxpayer:

  • Some itemized deductions are allowed for the regular tax computation but not for the AMT computation.
  • Tier II miscellaneous itemized tax deductions are not allowed for the AMT computation; in addition, for the years 2018 through 2025, they are also not allowed for the regular tax computation. This category primarily includes employee business expenses, investment expenses, and legal fees. As these expenses aren’t currently deductible in either tax calculation, there is no adjustment for the AMT calculation.
  • The AMT computation does not allow the itemized deduction for interest on home-equity debt; such debt also is not deductible in the regular computation through 2025, which eliminates another difference in the two computations.
  • Employee incentive stock option tax preferences are also handled differently in the two computations, as is discussed in more detail later in the post.

As a result of the increased exemptions, the higher AGI thresholds for the exemption phaseout, and the reduction or elimination of differences in deductions, the AMT typically no longer affects average taxpayers.

Incentive stock options – Employers sometimes grant employees qualified stock options (i.e., incentive stock options), as motivation to become more involved in the company’s success and to share in the company’s stock appreciation.

For these options, the employer grants the employee an opportunity to purchase the company’s stock at a preset price on a future date. An option is usually accompanied by a vesting schedule that details the date when the options can be exercised (i.e., when the stock can be purchased). Once the employees have held these shares for more than a year—and for at least two years after the option was granted—any subsequent gains from sales of the stock are subject to the capital-gains tax instead of the ordinary (less favorable) income tax.

The Catch – The catch for incentive stock options is that, in the year when the employee exercises the option and purchases the stock, the difference (often referred to as the “bargain element”) between the stock’s current market value and the price that the employee paid as part of the option is treated as a tax preference. Thus, this difference is added to the employee’s AMT income but is not included in the regular tax income. In the past, this usually triggered the AMT, which meant that the employee had to pay tax on the phantom income in the year of the option, even though there was no actual stock sale. As a result, many employees have shied away from taking full advantage of incentive stock options; rather than holding the stock for the required qualifying period, they have been selling the stock in the year when they exercised the option, resulting in the profit being classified as ordinary income.

(Note that nonqualified stock options are not eligible for the beneficial tax treatment that incentive stock options are afforded. When a nonqualified option is exercised, the bargain element is included in the employee’s wages as ordinary income for the year when the option is exercised. However, this ordinary income is not a preference item for AMT purposes. Most employees who exercise nonqualified stock options immediately sell the stock so that they have money to pay the payroll taxes related to the resulting ordinary income. The paperwork that the employer provides when awarding the option states whether the option is qualified or nonqualified.)

Opportunity – The changes in the AMT present low to moderate-income taxpayers with an opportunity to exercise incentive stock options without triggering the AMT.

If you hold incentive stock options, it may be possible to develop a plan—perhaps a multiyear plan—that will allow you to exercise your options without incurring phantom income in the AMT calculation. Please contact us for assistance in developing such a plan.

Court of Appeals Rules for Clergy

Article Highlights:

  • Internal Revenue Code Section 107
  • Court Ruling
  • Employee Status
  • Self-employed Status
  • Parsonage Allowance
  • Self-employment Tax
  • Exemption from Self-employment Tax

If you read our previous article related to a Wisconsin District Court ruling, you will recall that the judge in that case had ruled that Sec. 107(2) of the Internal Revenue Code was unconstitutional.

Section 107 of the Internal Revenue Code provides that a minister’s gross income doesn’t include the rental value of a home provided by the house of worship. If the home itself isn’t provided, then a rental allowance paid as part of compensation for ministerial services is excludable. This 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 home’s FRV.

Good news for clergy members: a 3-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has unanimously overturned the lower court’s decision and ruled that Sec. 107 is constitutional; therefore, housing allowances continue to be excludable from income tax.

It is unknown whether those who brought the suit will ask the full 7th Circuit to review the case or appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court and, if so, whether the Supreme Court will take it up.

Here is an overview of how members of the clergy (from all faiths) are taxed on their income. When we refer to “church” in this article, please read that to include mosques, synagogues, temples, etc. Members of the clergy are taxed on not just their salary but on other fees and contributions that they receive in exchange for performing services such as marriages, baptisms, funerals, and masses. As a result, clerics will generally report their income in two ways:

As an Employee – As an employee, clerics will receive a W-2 from the church showing the amount of their income that is subject to tax, any amount paid as a nontaxable housing allowance (discussed later), and any withholding.

Any expenses incurred as a W-2 employee are included on Form 2106 (Employee Business Expenses) and if the cleric also receives a nontaxable parsonage allowance, the expenses must be divided between the taxable W-2 income and nontaxable parsonage allowance. Unfortunately, for years 2018 through 2025 the deduction for employee business expenses has been suspended by tax reform. The suspension affects all employee business expenses, not just those of clergy employees.

As a Self-Employed Individual – Income received other than as an employee of a church is reported as self-employment income. Typically, this would include all income that is not included in the W-2 from the church, including fees charged for services, such as weddings, funerals, and other gatherings. This income and any expenses associated with it are reported on Schedule C and are subject to the self-employment tax.

Parsonage Allowance – As was discussed previously, as the subject of the court ruling, a member of the clergy can qualify to have a rental allowance excluded from his or her taxable income if that allowance is provided as remuneration for services that are ordinarily the duties of a minister of the gospel. The following are the qualifications and details of the parsonage allowance:

  • It is only excludable to the extent that it is used for expenses related to the minister’s housing (e.g., for rent, mortgage payments, utilities, and repairs).
  • The rental allowance is not excludable to the extent that it exceeds reasonable compensation for the minister’s services.
  • The allowance only applies to the minister’s primary residence.
  • The allowance cannot exceed a home’s FRV, including furnishings and appurtenances such as garages, plus the cost of utilities.
  • In advance of the payment, the employing organization must designate the allowance by an official action. If a minister is employed by a local congregation, the designation must come from the local church, instead of from the church’s national organization.
  • The portion of the minister’s business expenses that is attributable to tax-free income is not deductible. This rule does not apply to home-mortgage interest or to taxes that are deductible in full if the minister itemizes deductions.
  • Retired clerics can exclude a home’s rental value or a rental allowance if the home is furnished as compensation for past services and authorized under a convention of a national church organization. However, this exclusion does not extend to the widow or widower of a retired cleric.

Although it is not subject to income tax, a parsonage allowance is subject to the self-employment tax unless the minister is exempt (as discussed below).

Self-Employment Tax – A minister who hasn’t taken a vow of poverty is subject to self-employment tax on income from services performed as a minister.

An ordained minister may be granted an exemption from the self-employment tax for ministerial services only. To qualify, the church employing the minister must qualify as a religious organization under Code Section 501(c)(3). The application for an exemption is filed with Form 4361 (Application for Exemption from Self-Employment Tax for Use by Ministers, Members of Religious Orders, and Christian Science Practitioners).

To claim an exemption from the self-employment tax, the minister must meet all of the following conditions and file Form 4361 to request exemption from the self-employment tax. The minister must:

  • Be conscientiously opposed to public insurance because of his or her individual religious considerations or because of the principles of his or her religious denomination (not because of general conscience).
  • File for non-economic reasons.
  • Inform the church’s or order’s ordaining, commissioning, or licensing body that he or she is opposed to public insurance, if he or she is a minister or a member of a religious order (other than a vow-of-poverty member). This requirement doesn’t apply to Christian Science practitioners or readers.
  • Establish that the organization that ordained, commissioned, or licensed him or her (or his or her religious order) is a tax-exempt religious organization.
  • Establish that the organization is a church (or a convention or association of churches).
  • Not have previously filed Form 2031 (Revocation of Exemption from Self-Employment Tax for Use by Ministers, Members of Religious Orders, and Christian Science Practitioners) to elect for Social Security coverage.

Form 4361 must be filed on or before the return’s extended due date for the second tax year when the individual has net self-employment earnings of $400 or more (part of which is from services as a minister). A late application will be rejected.

The time for applying starts over when a minister who previously was not opposed to accepting public insurance (i.e., Social Security benefits) enters a new ministry (e.g., joins a new church and adopts beliefs that include opposition to public insurance). However, the IRS has said that there is no second chance to apply for exemption if a minister is ordained in a different church but does not change his or her beliefs regarding public insurance (i.e., the minister opposed the acceptance of public insurance in both faiths).

Careful consideration should be made before applying for an exemption from the self-employment tax, as once the decision is made, the election is irrevocable.

If you have questions related to any of these issues or how they may apply to your situation, please contact us.

Employees’ Fringe Benefits after Tax Reform

Article Highlights:

  • Qualified Parking
  • Transit Passes
  • Bicycle Commuting
  • Commuting
  • Moving Deduction
  • Achievement Awards
  • Group Term Life Insurance
  • Dependent Care Benefits
  • Qualified Educational Assistance Programs

Tax reform made a lot of changes, some of which impacted employees’ fringe benefits. This article reviews the most frequently encountered fringe benefits, including those that were and were not impacted by tax changes. These changes can affect both a business’s bottom line and its employees’ deductions.

BENEFITS IMPACTED BY TAX REFORM

Qualified Transportation Fringe Benefits – Qualified transportation fringe benefits include parking, transit passes, commuter (van pool) transportation, and bicycle commuting.

  • Qualified parking – The tax-free fringe benefit for qualified parking is still available to employees and is capped at $265 per month for 2019, up from $260 in 2018.
  • Transit Passes – The tax-free fringe benefit for transit passes is also still available to employees, up to $265 per month for 2019, an increase from $260 in 2018.
  • Bicycle Commuting – Unfortunately, tax reform did away with the $20-per-month tax-free reimbursement for the cost of an employee commuting to work on a bicycle.
  • Commuting – Tax reform killed the monthly commuting fringe benefit (which was $260 in 2018) except when necessary for ensuring the safety of an employee. When allowed, the maximum amount is the same as the transit pass fringe benefit.

However, even though they are excludable fringe benefits for employees, after 2017, employers can no longer deduct their expenses for parking or mass transit passes or commuter highway vehicle transportation provided to their employees.

Moving expenses – Before 2018 and after 2025, taxpayers who move because of a change in work location who meet certain distance and time requirements are able to deduct their moving costs in excess of any tax-free reimbursement from their employer. However, that deduction is suspended for 2018 through 2025, and any employer reimbursement is taxable and included in the employee’s W-2.

There is one exception: moving expenses are still deductible for military members on active duty for moves pursuant to military orders.

Achievement awards – Employee achievement awards are excludable from income only to the extent that the award does not exceed $400 for any one employee or $1,600 for a qualified plan award. A qualified plan award means an employee achievement award awarded as part of an established written plan or program of the business that does not discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees.

Tax reform added the provision that to be tax-free, the award must be a tangible item. So awards of the following would be taxable to the employee recipient: cash, cash equivalents, gifts cards, gift coupons, gift certificates (other than if the employer pre-selected or pre-approved a limited selection), vacations, meals, lodging, tickets for theater or sporting events, stock, bonds, or similar items.

BENEFITS NOT IMPACTED BY TAX REFORM

Group Term Life Insurance – The first $50,000 of group term life insurance coverage provided by an employer is a tax-free fringe benefit that does not add anything to the employee’s overall tax bill. But the cost of employer-paid group term coverage in excess of $50,000 is treated as taxable income and added to the employee’s W-2. The cost of that insurance coverage is based on an IRS table and is frequently higher than the employer is actually paying for the insurance, which creates phantom income.

For older employees, the after-tax cost of the additional coverage frequently exceeds the cost for an individual term policy. It may be appropriate for certain employees to only utilize the first $50,000 in coverage and acquire an individual policy for any additional needed coverage.

Dependent Care Benefits – Employers can establish dependent care assistance plans for the exclusive benefit of their employees. The payments received under the plan that are used by employees to pay dependent care expenses are excludable from employees’ income, up to the lower of:

  1. The employee’s earned income (for married employees, this is the earned income of the lower-paid spouse) or
  2. $5,000 ($2,500 for married filing separate).

Dependent care assistance that exceeds the limits must be included in an employee’s income for the year the dependent care is provided, even though it is not paid to the employee until later.

Qualified Educational Assistance Programs – If an employer has a written qualified educational assistance program, an employee may receive, on a tax-free basis, up to $5,250 each year for any form of instruction or training that improves or develops his or her capabilities, whether or not it is job-related or part of a degree program. However, no deduction or credit may be taken by the employee for any amount excluded from the employee’s income as an education assistance benefit.

These are just a few of the fringe benefits that may have tax consequences. Please give us a call if you have any questions related to them or other possibly excludable fringe benefits.