How Does Combining a Vacation with a Foreign Business Trip Affect the Tax Deduction for Travel Expenses of a Self-Employed Individual?

Article Highlights:

  • Primarily Business
  • Primarily Vacation
  • Special Circumstances
  • Foreign Conventions, Seminars and Meetings
  • Cruise Ships
  • Spousal Travel Expenses

Effective for years 2018 through 2025, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 suspended the deduction of miscellaneous itemized expenses that must be reduced by 2% of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income. Employee business expenses, including travel expenses, fall into this category. Therefore, this discussion only applies to self-employed individuals for years 2018-2025.

When a self-employed individual makes a business trip outside of the U.S. and the trip is 100% devoted to business, all the ordinary and necessary business travel expenses are deductible, just as if the business trip were within the U.S. On the other hand, if the trip also incorporates a vacation, special rules determine the deductibility of the travel expenses to and from the destination; when the other business travel expenses, such as lodging, meals, local travel and incidentals, can be deducted; and when they must be allocated. So, whether you are just visiting one of our neighboring countries or traveling to Europe or even more exotic locales, here are some travel tax pointers:

Primarily Vacation – If the travel is primarily for vacation and only a few hours are spent attending professional seminars or meeting with foreign business colleagues, none of the expenses incurred in traveling to and from the general business location are deductible. Other travel expenses must be allocated on a day-by-day basis, and only the business portion is deductible.

Primarily Business – If the trip is primarily for business and meets one of the conditions listed below, the expenses incurred in traveling to and from the business destination are deductible in full (same as for travel within the U.S.).

(1) The travel outside the U.S. is for a period of one week or less (seven consecutive days, excluding the departure day but including the day of return). In addition, all other ordinary and necessary travel expenses are fully deductible.

(2) Less than 25% of the total time outside the U.S. is spent on non-business activities. In addition, all other ordinary and necessary travel expenses are fully deductible. (If 25% of more of the total time is spent on non-business activities, a day-by-day allocation of all travel expenses between personal and business activities is necessary and only the business portion is deductible.)

(3) The individual incurring the travel expenses can establish that a personal vacation or holiday was not a major consideration. In addition, all other ordinary and necessary travel expenses are fully deductible.

(4) The taxpayer did not have “substantial control” over arranging the trip. (For self-employed taxpayers, who would generally have substantial control over the trip arrangements, this provision likely won’t apply.) In addition, all other ordinary and necessary travel expenses are fully deductible.

When determining what constitutes business and non-business time, business days include: days en route to or from the business destination by a reasonably direct route without interruption; days when actual business is transacted; weekends or standby days that fall between business days; and days when business was to have been transacted but was canceled due to unforeseen circumstances.

Non-business days are days spent on non-business activities as well as weekends, holidays and other standby days that fall at the end of the business activity, if the taxpayer remains at the business destination for personal reasons.

Foreign Conventions, Seminars or Meetings – Tax law does not permit a deduction for travel expenses to attend a convention, seminar or similar meeting held outside of the North American area unless the taxpayer establishes that:

(1) The meeting is directly related to the active conduct of the taxpayer’s trade or business, and
(2) It is “as reasonable” for the meeting to be held outside of the North American area as it is within the North American area.

The IRS defines “North American area” quite broadly and includes not just the U.S., Canada and Mexico, as you would expect, but also Bermuda, several countries in the Caribbean basin, U.S. possessions such as American Samoa and other Pacific island nations, and some Central American countries as well.

Cruise Ship Conventions – In order for a taxpayer to deduct the cost of attending a convention related to his or her trade or business on a cruise ship, the ship must be a U.S. flagship, and all the ports of call must be within the U.S. or its possessions. In addition, the maximum deduction is limited to $2,000 per attendee. Substantiation requirements include certain signed statements by both the taxpayer and an officer of the convention sponsor.

Spousal* Travel Expenses – Generally, deductions are denied for travel expenses for a spouse, dependent or employee of the taxpayer on a business trip unless:

  1. The spouse is an employee of the taxpayer, and
  2. The travel of the spouse, etc., is for a bona fide business purpose; and
  3. The expenses would otherwise be a deductible business travel expense for the spouse.*These rules also apply to a dependent or employee of the taxpayer.

Since a spouse, dependent or other individual who is an employee will be denied a deduction for business travel expenses in years 2018 through 2025, condition #3 can’t be met. This means that “spousal” travel expenses won’t be deductible for years 2018 through 2025.

However, the law allows a deduction for the single rate for lodging on qualified business trips, and frequently, there is no rate difference between one and two occupants. Thus, virtually the entire lodging expense for an accompanying spouse will be deductible. When traveling by car, the law does not require any allocation because the spouse is also traveling in the vehicle. Thus, if traveling by vehicle, the entire cost of the business-related transportation would be deductible. Generally, this would also apply to taxis at the destination.

As you can see, determining the tax deduction for a foreign business trip of a self-employed individual that is combined with a vacation can be complicated. If you need additional tax guidance or assistance planning such a trip, please contact us.

Protecting Yourself from Scams, ID Theft and Cyber Criminals

Article Highlights:

  • ID Theft
  • What’s in Your Wallet or Purse
  • Phony E-mail
  • Pop-up Ads
  • Only Access Secure Websites
  • Avoid Phishing Scams
  • Security Software
  • Educate Children
  • Passwords
  • Phony Charities
  • Impersonating the IRS
  • Back Up Files
  • If It Is Too Good to Be True

As much as the Internet has changed our lives for the good, it has also opened us up to threats from crooks all over the world. They’re smart, and are always coming up with new tricks to separate you from your hard-earned dollars or with an illegal way to use your stolen ID. They apply for loans and credit cards with stolen IDs, file fraudulent tax returns, make purchases with stolen credit card info, and tap into your bank account with stolen account information, and the list goes on. As a result, everyone needs to be very careful and mindful of the tricks used by these scammers to not end up becoming a victim.

Tarlow & Co is committed to using safeguards that protect your information from data theft. To further protect your identity, you can also take steps to stop thieves. This article looks at a variety of tricks and schemes crooks use to dupe individuals, along with actions you can take to avoid being scammed, keep your computer secure, avoid phishing and malware, and protect your personal information.

ID Theft – The primary information ID thieves are looking for is your name, Social Security number, and birth date. So, constantly be aware of where you use that information, and always question anyone’s need for it when they ask. The fewer institutions that have your ID information, the lower the chances your data will be hacked. Treat personal information like cash – don’t hand it out to just anyone. Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, and bank and even utility account numbers can be used to help steal a person’s money or open new accounts. Every time you receive a request for personal information, you should think about whether the request is truly necessary. Scammers will do everything they can to appear trustworthy and legitimate.

Stolen IDs are also frequently used by cyber thieves to file fraudulent tax returns in your name, to take advantage of refundable tax credits such as the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit and the American Opportunity Education Credit, leaving you to deal with the IRS’s identity theft protocol.

What’s in Your Wallet or Purse – What is in your wallet or purse can make a big difference if it is stolen. Besides the credit cards and whatever cash or valuables you might be carrying, you also need to be concerned about your identity being stolen, which is a far more serious problem. Think about it: your driver’s license has 2 of the 3 keys to your identity. And if you also carry your Social Security card, bingo! An identity thief then has all the information needed.

Phony E-mail – Be aware that an unsolicited e-mail with a request to download an attachment or click on a URL could appear to be from someone you know, such as a friend, work colleague or tax professional. It could be that their e-mail has been hacked and someone else is sending the e-mail, hoping to trick you into some scam. Be alert for suspicious wording or content, and don’t click on any embedded links or attachments if there is any doubt.

Pop-up Ads – Don’t assume Internet advertisements, pop-up ads, or e-mails are from reputable companies. If an ad or offer looks too good to be true, it most likely is not true. Take a moment to check out the company behind it. Type the company or product’s name into a search engine with terms like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.”

Only Access Secure Websites – Only provide personal information over reputable, encrypted websites. Shopping or banking online should be done only on sites that use encryption. People should look for “https” at the beginning of a Web address (the “s” stands for “secure”) and be sure “https” is on every page of the site.

Avoid Phishing Scams – The easiest way for criminals to steal sensitive data is simply to ask for it. Learn to recognize phishing e-mails, calls or texts from crooks that pose as familiar organizations such as banks, credit card companies or even the IRS. These ruses generally urge taxpayers to give up sensitive data such as passwords, Social Security numbers and bank account or credit card numbers. They are called phishing scams because they attempt to lure the receiver into taking the bait.

For example, you might get an e-mail disguised as being from your credit card company asking you to verify your password. Companies will never do that because only you have that information, which is why you have to change it if you forget it.

Security Software – It is good practice to use security software. An anti-malware program should provide protection from viruses, Trojans, spyware and adware.

Set security software to update automatically so it can be upgraded as threats emerge. Also, make sure the security software is on at all times. Invest in encryption software to ensure data at rest is protected from unauthorized access by hackers or identity thieves.

You should never download “security” software from a pop-up ad. A pervasive ploy is a pop-up ad that indicates it has detected a virus on your computer. Don’t fall for it. The download most likely will install some type of malware. Reputable security software companies do not advertise in this manner.

Educate Children – Today’s children are probably more adept at using the Internet than their parents but are not mindful of the hazards. Educate your children about not giving out or posting online their Social Security numbers or birth dates. It may also be appropriate not to allow them to use a device that contains sensitive information such as tax returns, financial links, etc. It is not uncommon for crooks to use children’s IDs to file fraudulent tax returns. Also, block your children from freely downloading apps to their mobile devices without parental supervision.

Taxpayers have reported an increase in e-file problems because their children’s SSNs have already been used in a previously e-filed return, which results in the e-filed return being rejected.

Passwords – Use strong passwords. The longer the password, the tougher it will be to crack. Most sites require a minimum of eight characters, with at least one number and one character. Many sources suggest using at least 10 characters; 12 is ideal for most home users. Mix letters, numbers and special characters. Try to be unpredictable – don’t use names, birthdates or common words. Don’t use the same password for many accounts, and don’t share them on the phone, in texts or by e-mail. Consider using a “passphrase” versus a password. And remember, legitimate companies will not send messages asking for passwords.

Phony Charities – The fraudsters pop up whenever there are natural disasters, such as earthquakes or floods, trying to coax you into making donations that will go into the scammer’s pockets and not to helping the victims of the disaster. They use the phone, mail, e-mail, websites and social networking sites to perpetrate their crimes. The following are some tips to avoid fraudulent fundraisers:

  • Donate to known and trusted charities. Be on the alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events.
  • Ask if a caller is a paid fundraiser, who he/she works for and what percentages of the donation go to the charity and to the fundraiser. If any clear answers are not provided, consider donating to a different organization.
  • Don’t give out personal or financial information—including a credit card or bank account number—unless the charity is known and reputable. You might end up donating more than you had planned on.
  • Never send cash. The organization may never receive the donation, and there won’t be a record for tax purposes.
  • Never wire money to a charity. It’s like sending cash.
  • If a donation request comes from a group claiming to help a local community agency (such as local police or firefighters), ask the people at the local agency if they have heard of the group and are getting financial support.
  • Verify the charity – Check out the charity with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch or IRS.gov.

Impersonating the IRS – Thieves will try to impersonate the IRS in an attempt to frighten you into making a quick payment, without checking on the validity of you owing any taxes.

The very first thing you should be aware of is that the IRS never initiates contact in any other way than by U.S. mail. So, if you receive an e-mail or a phone call out of the blue with no prior contact, then it is a scam. Do not respond to the e-mail or open any links included in the e-mail. If it is a phone call, simply hang up.

Additionally, it is important for taxpayers to know that the IRS:

  • Never asks for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the telephone.
  • Never insists that taxpayers use a specific payment method to pay tax obligations.
  • Never requests immediate payment over the telephone.
  • Will not take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversation. Taxpayers usually receive prior written notification of IRS enforcement action involving IRS tax liens or levies. Some scammers even threaten immediate arrest if the payment is not made immediately – don’t be bullied by these criminals.

When in question, contact your Tarlow tax advisor before making tax payments or providing information.

Back Up Files – No system is completely secure. Back up important files, including federal and state tax returns, business books and records, financials and other sensitive data onto remote storage, a removable disc or a back-up drive.

If It Is Too Good to Be True, It Probably Isn’t – Many e-mail scams are based around supposed foreign lotto winnings, foreign inheritances and foreign quick-buck investment schemes. Don’t let the lure of the dollar signs cloud your better judgement. The only one that makes out in these instances is the cyber crook.

If you have any questions, please contact us.

What Are the Differences Between an IRS Tax Lien and a Tax Levy?

If you’re reading this, the chances are high that you’re one of the many, many people who have received a notice from the Internal Revenue Service. Some level of correspondence with the IRS is natural ‒ particularly leading up to and in the immediate aftermath of tax season. But if you’ve received notification that the government is about to file a tax lien or tax levy against you, suddenly you’re talking about an entirely different ballgame.

But the most important thing you can do at this point is stay calm. Yes, both of these notices mean that your financial situation has just gotten significantly more complicated. But you do have rights in each scenario that you would do well to protect at all costs.

What Is an IRS Tax Lien?

An IRS tax lien is a very specific type of claim that the government (in this case, the Internal Revenue Service) makes on your property. That property can include but is not limited to real estate and other types of assets. Typically, this is something that occurs when you’re past due on your income taxes and you’ve failed to make proper arrangements to get yourself back up-to-date again.

A tax lien can affect you in a number of different ways, all of which are less than ideal. Even though tax liens no longer appear on your credit report, your credit rating will still suffer ‒ thus harming your ability to get a loan or secure new credit for your business. Tax liens also usually appear during title searches, which can impact your ability to sell your house or refinance the mortgage you already have.

What Is an IRS Tax Levy?

A tax lien is essentially the first part in a two-step process. That second step takes the form of a tax levy, which involves the actual seizure of the property in question in an effort to pay the tax money you owe. Via a tax levy, the IRS can do everything from garnish your wages, seize assets like real estate or even take control of your bank accounts to get their money.

At the very least, you’re likely to go through wage garnishment ‒ meaning that you’ll be taking home far less money at the end of the week in your paycheck. A 21-day hold might be placed on your bank account in an effort to encourage you to “work things out,” and if you don’t, they may even try to seize your home as a last resort.

Luckily, there are a few things that the IRS CAN’T seize even by way of a tax levy. These include things like unemployment benefits, certain pension benefits, disability payments, workers’ compensation and others.

What Can I Do About Them?

Thankfully, even in the unfortunate event of a lien or levy, you do still have some options available to you.

More than anything, if you CAN pay your tax bill, you SHOULD pay your tax bill. If necessary, get on an IRS payment plan to help you get back up-to-date. Yes, your past due balance will continue to accrue both interest and penalties until you’ve paid it off. But the choice between paying interest and losing your house isn’t really a choice at all.

It’s also important for you to actively work to protect your rights if you feel it necessary to do so. After receiving either a lien or a levy notice, you can always file an appeal with the IRS Office of Appeals if you feel you’re being treated unfairly. It is within your right to ask for a conference with the IRS agent’s manager so that your case can be reviewed by a fresh set of eyes. If nothing else, this is a great way to make sure that your side of the story is known.

You can also apply for a Withdrawal of the Notice of Federal Tax Lien, which will remove the public notice of a tax lien filing. If the IRS has notified you that any of your property is about to be seized, you can file something called a Certificate of Discharge. This will remove the property in question from the effects of the tax lien, allowing you to sell something like your home (or another asset) without worrying.

A seasoned Tarlow tax professional can assist with these challenges. Please call us with any questions and for assistance.

A Government Shutdown Isn’t Going to Save You from an IRS Audit

Yes, it’s true that we’re just coming out of the longest government shutdown in the history of the United States. It will take many government agencies – including the Internal Revenue Service – a significant period of time to get back up to speed. But if you think that all this means that the chances of your getting audited are lower than ever, you’re going to want to think again.

According to one recent study, the IRS audited about 0.6 percent of individual tax returns in 2016, which means that your chances of getting that unfortunate letter in the mail were about one in 160. When you expand the definition of a traditional audit to include all of the other types of notices that you may receive to re-examine your taxes or provide backup documentation, for example, that number jumps to about 6.2 percent— or roughly one in 16.

So not only were your chances of getting audited always higher than you thought, but a government shutdown isn’t going to prevent this particular train from running on time. There are a few common IRS audit red flags in particular that you’ll want to know more about as April approaches once again.

The Dreaded Math Errors

A lot of people don’t realize just how much of the IRS’s own processes are automated. When you file your income tax return, that information gets entered into a computer, and a lot of the processing is done before a human ever looks at it — if one ever comes into contact with your return at all.

Therefore, one of the major red flags that will certainly trigger an audit are math errors, because a computer doesn’t care whether the government was shut down or not. A math error is a math error, and if you make one (or multiple), it’ll send up a red flag within the IRS’s system, and an automated notice will likely be issued as a result.

HOW You Make Your Money

The people who work for the IRS aren’t amateurs; they know that certain types of industries feature more instances of unreported cash earnings than others. This is why another one of the major red flags that could see you on the receiving end of an IRS audit has to do with the industry you’re operating in to begin with.

If you work in the restaurant industry where cash tips are common, for example, you are probably always going to garner more attention from IRS professionals than someone who may have a more rigid salary. Simply being a part of these types of industries automatically raises your odds of being audited, and no government shutdown is going to change that.

Earned Income Tax Credit Audits

In 2018, the IRS actually came right out and admitted that people who claim the Earned Income Tax Credit are twice as likely to be audited than those who don’t. A large part of this comes down to the fact that people sometimes take this credit who shouldn’t, and it costs the United States government about $10 billion per year.

At this point, it’s important to note that taking this credit intentionally when you shouldn’t is fraud, and that is not a situation you want to find yourself in. If you can prove that you took the credit by accident, you don’t necessarily have anything to worry about. But you’ll likely still be audited, and you’re certainly going to have some explaining to do.

Large Charitable Contributions

Finally, one of the biggest red flags that the IRS always looks for when determining whom to audit ultimately comes down, not to charitable contributions as a concept, but to significantly large contributions under peculiar circumstances.

When viewing charitable contributions, the IRS always looks at the amount you gave relative to the overall amount you made during a year. The IRS definitely knows, on average, how much people in certain income brackets are likely to donate. Sure, there are always special circumstances – but if you give two years’ worth of donations in a single year in an effort to maximize the deduction you can take, you’re almost always going to attract the type of attention you don’t necessarily want.

Provided that you’ve got the documentation to back up your donations, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. But a lot of people try to game the system by saying that they gave X amount of dollars in one year when they really gave that money over the last few years, and that is something the IRS will try to put a stop to.

An audit isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you have the documentation to support every move you made and why it was the right one for you at the moment. But again, don’t assume that the government shutdown means that your chances of an IRS audit are practically zero. They never were, but they certainly aren’t now, which is why you’ll always want to make sure that you’ve crossed your T’s and dotted your I’s before you submit your tax return information this year. Please contact us with any questions.

Vacation Home Rentals: How the Income Is Taxed

If you have a second home in a resort area, or if you have been considering acquiring a second home or vacation home, you may have questions about how rental income is taxed for a part-time vacation-home rental. The applicable rental rules include some interesting twists that you should know about before you begin renting. Although some individuals prefer to never rent out their homes, others find such rentals to be a helpful way of covering the cost of the home. For a home that is rented out part time, one of three rules must be considered, based on the length of the rental:

  1. Home Rented For Fewer Than 15 Days – If a property is rented out for fewer than 15 days in a year, the property is treated as if it were not rented out at all: The rental income is tax-free, and the interest and taxes paid on the home are still deductible. In this situation, however, any directly related rental expenses (such as agent fees, utilities, and cleaning charges) are not deductible. This rule can allow for significant tax-free income, particularly when a home is rented as a filming location.
  2. Home Rented For At Least 15 Days With Minor Personal Use – In this scenario, the home is rented for at least 15 days, and the owners’ personal use of the home does not exceed the greater of 15 days or 10% of the rental time. The home’s use is then allocated as both a rental home and a second home. For example, if a home is used 5% of the time for personal use, then 5% of the interest and taxes on that home are treated as home interest and taxes; these costs can be deducted as itemized deductions. The other 95% of the interest and taxes, as well as 95% of the insurance, utilities, and allowable depreciation, count as rental expenses (in addition to 100% of the direct rental expenses). The combined expenses for all rental activities are deductible as a tax loss. However, this amount is limited to $25,000 per year for a taxpayer with adjusted gross income of $100,000 or less and is ratably phased out between $100,000 and $150,000. Thus, if a taxpayer’s income exceeds $150,000, the rental-expense tax loss cannot be deducted; it is carried forward until the home is sold or until gains from other passive activities can be used to offset the loss.
  3. Home Rented For At Least 15 Days With Major Personal Use – In this scenario, a home is rented for at least 15 days, but the owner’s personal use exceeds the greater of 14 days or 10% of the rental time. With such major personal use, no rental-related tax loss is allowed. For example, consider a home that has personal use 20% of the time and is a rental for the remaining 80%. The rental income is first reduced by 80% of the combined taxes and interest. If the owner still makes a profit after deducting the interest and taxes, then direct rental expenses and certain other expenses (such as the rental-prorated portion of the utilities, insurance, and repairs) are deducted, up to the amount of the remaining income. If there is still a profit, the owner can take a deduction for depreciation, but this is also limited to the remaining profit. As a result, no loss is allowed, and any remaining profit is taxable. The interest and taxes from the personal use (20% in this example) are deducted as itemized deductions, which are subject to the normal interest and tax limitations.

Vacation Home Sales – A vacation-home rental is considered a personal-use property. Gains from the sales of such properties are taxable, and losses are generally not deductible.

Unlike primary homes, second homes do not qualify for the home-gain exclusion. Any gain from a second home is taxable unless it served as the taxpayer’s primary residence for two of the five years immediately preceding the sale and was not rented during that two-year period. In the latter scenario, the taxpayer does qualify for the home-gain exclusion, provided that he or she has not used that exclusion for another property in the prior two years. As a result, by the home-gain exclusion can offset an amount of gain that exceeds the depreciation previously claimed on the home; this amount is limited to $250,000 for an individual or $500,000 for a married couple filing jointly (if the spouse also qualifies).

There are complicated tax rules related to the home-gain exclusion for homes that are acquired in a tax-deferred exchange or converted from rentals to primary residences. Homeowners may require careful planning to utilize the home-gain exclusion in such cases.

As an additional note, when a property is rented for short-term stays or when significant personal services (such as maid services) are provided to guests, the taxpayer likely will be considered a business operator rather than just an individual who is renting a home. If so, the reporting requirements will differ from those outlined above.

As with all tax rules, there are certain exceptions to be aware of. Please call us to discuss your situation in detail.

Several Ways to Defer the Tax on Gains

When a sale of a business or investment property results in a gain, the seller is typically taxed on that gain during the year of the sale, even when the gain was generated over many years. However, the tax code provides opportunities to spread this gain over several years, to postpone it by deferring the gain into another property, or to simply defer it for a specified period of time. These arrangements can be accomplished by selling the property in an installment sale, by exchanging the property for another, or by investing in a qualified opportunity fund. As with all tax strategies, these options have unique requirements. To follow is an overview of what tax law says about these strategies:

Tax-Deferred Exchange – Many people refer to this arrangement as a “tax-free exchange,” but the gain is not actually tax-free; rather, it is deferred into another property. The gain will eventually be taxed when that property is sold (or will be deferred again in another exchange). These arrangements are also known as “1031 exchanges,” in reference to the tax code section that authorizes them: IRC Sec. 1031.

In the past, these exchanges applied to all properties, but since 2017, they have only applied to business- or investment-related exchanges of real estate. One of the requirements is that the exchanges must involve like-kind properties. However, the tax regulations for real estate exchanges are very liberal, and virtually any property can be exchanged for any other, regardless of whether they are improved or unimproved. One exception to this rule is that U.S. property cannot be exchanged for foreign property.

Exchange treatment is not optional; if an exchange meets the requirements of Sec. 1031, the gain must be deferred. Thus, taxpayers who do not wish to defer gains should avoid using an exchange.

It is almost impossible to for an exchange to be simultaneous, so the tax code permits delayed exchanges. Although such exchanges have other requirements, they generally involve a replacement property (or properties) that is identified within 45 days and acquired within 180 days or the tax-return due date (including extensions) for the year when the original property was transferred—whichever is sooner. An exchange accommodator typically holds the proceeds from such exchanges until they can be completed.

The tax code also permits reverse exchanges, in which an exchange accommodator holds the replacement property’s title until the exchange can be completed. The other exchange property must be identified within 45 days, and the transaction must be completed within 180 days of the sale of the original property.

The amount of gain that is deferred using the exchange method depends on the properties’ fair-market values and mortgage amounts, as well as on whether an unlike property (boot) is involved in the exchange. The rule of thumb is that the exchange is more likely to be fully tax deferred when the properties have greater value and equity.

Installment Sale – In an installment sale, the property’s seller provides a loan to the buyer. The seller then only pays income taxes only on the portion of the taxable gains that occur during the year of the sale; this includes the down payment and any other principal payments received in that year. The seller then collects interest on the loan at rates approaching those that banks charge. Each year, the seller pays tax on the interest and the taxable portion of the principal payments received in that year. For a sale to qualify as an installment sale, the seller must receive at least one payment after the year when the sale occurs. Installment sales are most frequently used for real estate; they cannot be used for the sale of publicly traded stock or securities. The installment sale provisions also do not apply when the sale results in a tax loss.

If the sold property is mortgaged, the mortgage must be paid off as part of the sale. Even if the seller does not have the financial resources to pay off the existing loan, an installment sale may be possible if the seller takes a secondary lending position or includes the existing mortgage in the new loan.

An installment sale has hazards; for instance, the buyer may decide to either pay off the installment loan or sell the property early. If either occurs, the installment plan ends, and the balance of the gains are taxable in the year when the buyer either paid off the loan or sold the property (unless the new buyer assumes the loan).

Qualified Opportunity Funds – Individuals who have capital gains from the sale of a personal, investment, or business asset can temporarily defer those gains into a qualified opportunity fund (QOF). In the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Congress created QOFs to help communities that still have not recovered from the previous decade’s economic downturn. QOFs are intended to promote investments in certain economically distressed communities, or “qualified opportunity zones.” To qualify as a QOF, a fund must hold at least 90% of its assets in qualified-opportunity-zone property.

Investments in QOFs provide unique tax incentives that are designed to encourage taxpayers to participate in these funds:

  1. For a gain to be deferrable, it must be invested in a QOF within 180 days of the sale that resulted in the gain.
  2. The gain is deferred until December 31, 2026—or to the year when the taxpayer withdraws the QOF assets, if that occurs earlier.
  3. As the investment is an untaxed gain, the taxpayer’s initial basis in the QOF is zero; this basis lasts for five years, so any funds withdrawn from the QOF in that time are fully taxable.
  4. If the funds are left in the QOF for at least five years, the basis increases to 10% of the deferred gain; in other words, 10% of the original gain is tax-free.
  5. If the funds are left in the QOF for at least seven years, the basis increases again, to 15% of the deferred gain; thus 15% of the original gain is tax-free.
  6. If the funds remain in the QOF after the tax on the gain has been paid, then the basis is equal to the amount of the original deferred gain.
  7. If the funds are left in the QOF for at least 10 years, the taxpayer can elect to increase the basis to the property’s fair market value. With this adjustment, the appreciation of the QOF investment is not taxable.

If a taxpayer’s investment in a QOF consists of both deferred gains and other funds, it is treated as two investments. The special tax treatment described above only applies to the deferred gains; the other funds are treated as an ordinary investment.

Unlike tax-deferred exchanges, QOFs only require the investment of the gains (not the entire proceeds of the sale).

Each of the aforementioned tax strategies is complicated and only applies in certain situations. None of these strategies should be utilized without careful analysis to ensure their suitability. Please note that not all of the qualifications for these strategies are included in this article.

If you have questions about these strategies or would like to make an appointment to analyze whether these tax-deferral options fit your situation, please call us.

Don’t Be a Victim of Cybercrooks

The season to prepare tax returns has begun. Unfortunately, it is also the season for scammers who are out to steal your identity, swindle you out of your money, and even file tax returns in your name. All of this can make you poorer, ruin your credit rating, cause financial havoc, and cost you hours of time trying to straighten out the messes caused by cybercrooks.

The best way to prevent your ID from being stolen, your computer from being hacked, or yourself from being tricked by some clever schemer is not to take their bait. These schemers will target you in a number of ways, including through email, regular mail and phone. Each one will try to scare you, appeal to your greedy side or trick you into allowing access to your electronic devices.

The most common way for cybercriminals to steal money, bank account information, passwords, credit cards and Social Security numbers is to simply ask for them in an unsuspecting way.

Here are a few steps you can take to protect against phishing and other email scams:

  • Be vigilant and skeptical. Never open a link or attachment from an unknown or suspicious source. Even if the email is from a known source, the recipient should approach it with caution. Cybercrooks are good at acting like trusted businesses, friends, family and even the IRS.
  • Emails and other electronic contact from the IRS. If you should receive an email claiming to be from the IRS or directing you to an IRS web site, you should know that the IRS never initiates contact via email. This includes asking for information via text messages and social media channels. The first thing you should do is contact this office. But above all, DO NOT reply to the message, open any attachments (which may contain malicious code that will infect your computer), or click on any links in a suspicious email or phishing website and enter your confidential information. The IRS never asks for detailed personal and financial information like PINs, passwords, or similar secret access information for credit cards, banks, or other financial accounts.
    The address of the official IRS website is www.irs.gov. Do not be misled by sites claiming to be the IRS but ending in .com, .net, .org, or anything other than .gov. If you discover a website that claims to be the IRS but you suspect it is bogus, do not provide any personal information on the site.
  • Double check the email address. Thieves may have compromised a friend’s email address. They might also be spoofing the address with a slight change in text, such as by using narne@example.com instead of name@example.com. Merely changing the “m” to an “r” and “n” can trick people.
  • Remember that the IRS doesn’t initiate spontaneous contact with taxpayers by phone or email to ask for personal or financial information. The IRS does not call taxpayers with aggressive threats of lawsuits or arrests. It is a common tactic for criminals to call, acting as an IRS agent to try collecting a tax bill and threatening to arrest you or have your home seized for payment. These same individuals will sometimes ask you to make payments using a gift card, which the IRS would never do.
  • Don’t click on hyperlinks in suspicious emails. It is common practice for cyber crooks to send out emails asking you to click on an embedded link to update your password or other sensitive information. Legitimate firms would not do that, so be safe and ignore and then delete the email. If the email is from a business or person you deal with and you are concerned, contact the business directly, either through its main webpage or by phone. Also remember that no legitimate business or organization will ask for sensitive financial information by email. Another trick cybercrooks employ is to hack into a friend’s emails and then send you messages asking you to click on an embedded link in the email, which can end up installing malware on your computer.
  • Use security software to protect against malware and viruses found in phishing emails. Some security software can help identify suspicious websites that are used by cybercriminals as well as detect malware on your computer.
  • Use strong passwords to protect online accounts. Experts recommend the use of a passphrase, instead of a password, with a minimum of 10 digits, including letters, numbers, and special characters. But don’t use a family name or birth date, as cybercriminals may already have that information and will try it.
  • Use multi-factor authentication when offered. Two-factor authentication means that in addition to entering a username and password, the user must enter a security code. This code is usually sent as a text to the user’s mobile phone. Even if a thief manages to steal usernames and passwords, it’s unlikely the crook would also have a victim’s phone.
  • Communication from the IRS. If you receive a phone call, fax, or letter from an individual claiming to be from the IRS, you should immediately contact us before providing any information. You should do this whether you suspect the contact is legitimate or not. You can also contact the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 to determine if the IRS has a legitimate need to contact you.
  • Educate the elderly. The elderly are frequent victims of scammers. If you have elderly family members or friends, take the time to sit down with them and educate them about scammers, email phishing and the like.
  • Too good to be true. One of the tactics used by scammers is fooling you into thinking that you won a foreign lottery or have received a foreign inheritance and that you need to send money before the funds can be transferred. Remember the old adage: “If it is too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.”
  • Report phishing scams. Should you receive a suspicious email, you can help the government fight the cybercrooks by forwarding it to phishing@irs.gov.

Unfortunately, our modern communication methods have provided opportunities for cybercrooks to scam you, which is a growing problem. You have to be vigilant and always keep your guard up. Don’t take their bait.

Always contact us if you receive any communications from the IRS or state tax authorities. Be extra cautious with emails, phone calls, and mail. If you have questions related to phishing or ID theft, please call us.

Unforced Errors – The 8 Most Common IRS Tax Penalties and How to Avoid Them in 2019

You know the old line about the inevitability of death and taxes? It’s still true. What isn’t inevitable, however, is the need to pay penalties to the IRS. It happens, but it doesn’t have to, and the main reason that it does is because taxpayers don’t educate themselves about the rules. When you get hit with an IRS penalty, it adds on to a number that you already wish you didn’t have to pay.

To ensure that you get through tax season without unnecessary costs and aggravation, below is a list of the tax penalties that the IRS most frequently assesses against taxpayers.

The Eight Most Common Tax Penalties Assessed:

  1. Penalty for underpaying estimated tax payments
  2. Penalty for taking early withdrawals from tax-advantaged retirement accounts, including IRA accounts and 401(k) accounts
  3. Penalty for taking nonqualified withdrawals from 529 plans, health savings accounts (HSAs), and similar tax-favored accounts
  4. Penalty for failing to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from tax-favored retirement accounts
  5. Penalty for making excess contributions to IRAs and other tax-favored accounts
  6. Penalty for failing to file, or for filing your required tax return after the designated due date
  7. Penalty for failing to pay your taxes on time
  8. Penalty for filing a substantially incorrect tax return or taking frivolous positions on a return

Let’s take a deep dive into each penalty. The more you know, the better you’ll understand how to avoid these mistakes.

1. Penalty for not making estimated tax payments
Where does your income come from? If you’re a W-2 employee whose employer withholds your federal income tax on your behalf, then estimated tax payments are not something you need to worry about. On the other hand, if you get income from which withholding isn’t deducted, then you are legally obligated to submit estimated quarterly tax. Failure to do so is subject to penalty.

Who has to submit quarterly estimated taxes? You do if you’re a part of the “gig” economy which makes part or all of your income from freelance jobs or independent contracting work, or if you’re a retiree who relies on or derives income from Social Security and your personal savings accounts or other accounts whose withdrawals are taxable (or subject to capital gains). Own a small business? If you’re subject to self-employment tax, then you’re supposed to submit it quarterly. Though this requirement is straightforward, most people start their income journey as W-2 employees: they may have no familiarity with estimated quarterly taxes, or if they do they may not be in the habit of paying it and have forgotten. Whatever the reason, the penalties for failure to make these payments can add up pretty quickly.

The government has set up the quarterly payments so that the IRS Form 1040-ES is marked with four dates throughout the year — April 15th, June 15th, September 15th and January 15th (or the next business day if the 15th falls on weekend or legal holiday) of the year that the year’s tax filing is due. In doing so, they have it set up so that the majority of the taxes that are owed are paid throughout the year, though not on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis the way that W-2 employees withholding is sent in. Failing to send the monies in for each quarter of 2018 is set to be penalized on an annualized basis of 4 to 5 percent. The best way to avoid the penalty is to pay your taxes on the dates that they’re due, calculating the payments accurately enough to represent either 90 (85% for 2018) percent of the actual amount you end up owing or 100% of the amount that was appropriate from the previous tax year. That 100% of the previous year’s amount is acceptable under what is known as safe-harbor, though for those whose income is more than $150,000, the percentage needed is 110% of the previous year’s income tax. Conversely, those who owe less than $1,000 in annual taxes do not get penalized at all. It is important to note that the penalty percentage has jumped to 6 percent as of the first quarter of 2019.

2. Penalty for taking early withdrawals from tax-advantaged retirement accounts, including IRA accounts and 401(k) accounts
Having a retirement account is a smart thing to do, and it’s something that the government has encouraged by allowing for the creation of special tax-advantaged vehicles. These tax advantages represent a tremendous incentive and benefit, but they come with strings: until you are 59 ½, you are not permitted to take money out of those accounts prior to retirement without having to have to pay a hefty 10% penalty.

As important as it is to know about the penalty so that you don’t take money out hastily and without a full understanding of the impact of doing so, but it’s also important to know when you can take the money out without being penalized. You’re permitted to take out up to $10,000 from an IRA for the purchase of a first home, as well as to pay any uncovered, unreimbursed medical bills that add up to more than ten percent of your adjusted gross income from any retirement plan. If you’ve been out of work and received unemployment compensation for a minimum of 12 weeks, you can take out up to $10,000 from and IRA to pay for your health insurance premiums.  Distributions can also be taken from an IRA to pay for qualified higher education expenses, including fees, room and board and of course tuition, all without penalty. And if you’re leaving your job during the same year that you’re turning 55 or older, you can take money out of a 401(k) account from the job that you’re leaving without penalty. The fact that there is no penalty does not negate the income taxes that you would be required to pay on withdrawals from any retirement account.

3. Penalty for taking nonqualified withdrawals from 529 plans, health savings accounts (HSAs), and similar tax-favored accounts
Just as the government works hard to make sure that the retirement accounts they’ve allowed to be tax-advantaged are used as intended, they take a similar approach to other tax-advantaged accounts, penalizing improper use and withdrawals from 529 plans, health savings accounts, and similar vehicles.

  • 529 plans – These plans provide the ability to set aside funds to pay for the cost of college, and were expanded under the recent tax reform act to also allow for funds to grow tax-free for eligible expenses for K-12 education too. Any money that is deposited into a 529 can be withdrawn without penalty as long as the money is going to pay for tuition, books and similar school-related expenses, but if the money is withdrawn for any other purpose, the withdrawn amount is subject to both income taxes on appreciation and a 10% penalty on the entire distribution. One important thing to note: if you have set up a 529 in one child’s name and wanted to use the monies for another child, that is not subject to penalty as long as you change the beneficiary. The same is true for Coverdell ESAs.
  • Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) – These plans were created to assist with the payment of out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. Money deposited into those accounts can grow to be withdrawn tax free as long as they are used for eligible costs; however, if you’re under the age of 65 and you use any of those funds for nonmedical expenses, the withdrawn amount will be subject to a 20% penalty and will also need to be reported on your tax return as income.

4. Penalty for failing to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from tax-favored retirement accounts
If you are a person who has been dedicated to putting money into your 401(k), your IRA, or another retirement account, then the idea of taking money out before you feel like you need it will just feel wrong. Unfortunately, the government requires that you do so once you hit a certain age. The IRS’ rules say that once you are 70 ½ you have to take what is known as a required minimum distribution, a percentage that is based on a published table that factors in your life expectancy and how much your account holds. As much as you might want to let your money continue to grow, the government wants to limit the amount of tax-deferred growth that each taxpayer can realize and start claiming its portion of the money you’ve been keeping it from taxing: that’s the reason for the requirement.

No matter how much you’d prefer not to touch your principal, the IRS takes an aggressive approach to make sure that you do so: the penalty for failure to take the amount out on the government timetable is more than significant – it’s 50% of the amount that you were supposed to take out, and if you don’t take out the right amount then you’re going to have to pay half of whatever you should have taken out but didn’t. The annual deadline is December 31st, though for the first year that you owe you have until April 1st to take the withdrawal. Not only do you have to make sure that you make your payment on time, but you have to calculate it correctly, and that can be somewhat complicated because the amount changes each year as your life expectancy and the value of your account shift. The good news is that the bank or investment company where you’re holding your money is generally equipped to assist with the calculation, and can even make things easier by arranging for automatic dispersals. Setting this up makes a lot of sense, as it eliminates the emotional twinge of writing a check and makes sure that it gets done so you can avoid that draconian penalty. However, the IRS does have the power to waive the penalty if you can show reasonable cause for failing to take the distribution and have a made a corrective distribution before applying for a penalty waiver.

5. Penalty for contributing too much to tax-favored accounts
Have you ever heard the phrase “they get you coming and going?” It may have been written for the IRS. Just as you’re learning that they’ll penalize you for not taking out enough money, you find out that they’ll also penalize you for depositing too much. Tax-deferred accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s limit the amount that you can contribute each year, and if you end up putting in too much, you’re going to be hit with a 6% charge. Though that penalty is a significantly lower percentage than is imposed for not taking the annual required minimum distribution, the amount can grow over the years if it isn’t addressed: if you make the mistake of leaving the excess funds in the account, you’ll face the same penalty each year until it’s been withdrawn. That can add up quickly, especially if you aren’t aware of the mistake you made until the government hits you with the penalty several years later.

The solution is to review the amount that you’ve deposited to make sure that there is no overage, and if there is to take it out before the deadline for your tax return. If you’ve filed an extension, then you’ve also extended the deadline for the withdrawal. This penalty applies to all tax-deferred accounts that limit the amount of money you can deposit in a given year.

6. Penalty for failing to file, or for filing your required tax return after the designated due date
The tax deadline is set in stone every year. It’s in the news; it’s on the IRS website and your tax forms. There’s no escaping it, and if you try, then you’re going to get penalized. Some people miss the deadline because they are procrastinators or they just forgot, while others make the mistake of thinking that if they don’t send in paperwork, then they won’t have to pay. Whatever the reason, you’re going to end up getting caught one way or another and having to pay the penalty. Those who run on the idea of “if I don’t send them my name and income then they’ll never know that I owe them money” fail to realize that the entity that provided that income also is required to send in paperwork to the government. When there is no tax return filed to match the tax information filed by your employer or investment, the government is going to begin an audit, and you’ll be in far bigger financial trouble than you would have been if you’d filed a return and let the government know that you couldn’t afford to pay what you owe. Failure to file results in penalties that add up quickly: 4.5% of the tax due will be assessed and added to your tax liability for each month that you’re late, up until you pass the five-month mark and hit the maximum penalty of 22.5%. There is also a minimum penalty amount of smaller of $210 or 100% of your tax due where it greater the percentage amount.

7. Penalty for failing to pay your taxes on time
In all fairness, some people don’t file their tax return because they don’t have the money available to pay what they owe. The truth is that the amount that is penalized for failing to file is much more than what you would be penalized if you did file without paying. Though you’re looking at a penalty one way or another, it makes sense to file, even without sending in the money that you owe.

We’ve already gone over the 4.5%  monthly penalty for failure to file, up to a maximum penalty of 22.5%. On top of the failure to file penalty, there is 0.5% penalty per month for failure to pay to bring the total penalty for failing to file and pay for the first five months to 5% per month. However, If you get your paperwork on time without actually sending in a payment, you avoid the 4.5% late filing penalty. Even after the first 5 months, the late payment penalty continues to accrue until the tax is paid.  One important thing to remember is that the requirement to pay begins on the tax due date – even if you request an extension for filing your return, the clock starts ticking on the non-payment penalty on the tax deadline date. If you’re at all able to send in money, then do so – even if it’s only a portion of what you owe.

For those who are suffering from financial difficulties, the IRS offers installment arrangements to make things easier. Though penalties are still likely to be tacked on to your tax liability, setting up an arrangement will prevent you from getting into arrears with the government and stop them from initiating a collection action. There are also negotiations available for those who provide proof of their inability to pay. The government is willing to help and does help many taxpayers, offering compromises where appropriate. You’re much better off coming forward, submitting all necessary paperwork on time, and asking for help.

8. Penalty for filing a substantially incorrect tax return or taking frivolous positions on a return
The IRS understands that mistakes happen: people have trouble with mathematical calculations or misunderstand definitions, and when that happens, and they discover the errors, they generally send out a letter notifying the taxpayer of their mistake and are open to hearing explanations. Sometimes they forgive the mistake and allow a correction to be made, and in other cases, they impose a penalty, usually no more than 20% of the underpayment for innocent errors. When the penalty is that high, it’s generally an indication that the government has reason to believe that the mistake represents legal negligence. It can also be a reflection of the magnitude of the underpayment, with larger underpayments resulting in more significant penalties.

However, none of these penalties are as significant as what you will face if the government has reason to believe that your underpayment was intentional.

Purposely understating the information on your tax return to minimize your liability constitutes civil fraud, and subjects you to 75% penalties of the amount that you underpaid. Of course, you will also still be on the hook for the amount that you should have paid in the first place if your tax return had been accurate and reflective of your real income. The IRS has little patience for either fraud or for what they refer to as frivolous tax arguments meant to help people evade paying what they owe. Depending upon the individual situation, some taxpayers are penalized with no concern for the amount that they actually owed, and are required to pay a flat rate of $5,000.

These penalties are what results from civil fraud, but that is not the worst penalty you can face. The IRS has the right to charge a person who perpetrates significant underpayment or tax evasion as a criminal fraud subject to jail time in addition to economic penalties. Where the line between civil tax fraud and criminal tax evasion is drawn is subjective, but assume that when the government can prove that you purposely tried to get out of paying what you owe, you’re going to be held accountable in a way that’s going to hurt. Lying on a return is considered a form of perjury, and there are plenty of tax evaders who have been forced to spend years in jail and to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties.

IRS Penalties Are An Entirely Preventable Problem
Though the list of penalties provided here is not exhaustive, it gives you a good idea of where you can get into trouble, as well as how to avoid it. Learn the requirements, follow them, and when in doubt, contact us with any questions and to request assistance. It’s also important to know that if you get yourself into trouble, you’re much better off facing your situation then trying to pretend it doesn’t exist. Our professionals can guide you through the process, help you find answers, and implement solutions.


When To Claim a Disaster Loss

Tax reform eliminated the deduction for casualty losses but did retain a deduction for losses within a disaster area. With the wild fires in the west, hurricanes and flooding in the southeast and eastern seaboard, we have had a number of presidentially declared disaster areas this year. If you were an unlucky victim and suffered a loss as a result of a disaster, you may be able to recoup a portion of that loss through a tax deduction. If the casualty occurred within a federally declared disaster area, you can elect to claim the loss in one of two years: the tax year in which the loss occurred or the immediately preceding year.

By taking the deduction for a 2018 disaster area loss on the prior year (2017) return, you may be able to get a refund from the IRS before you even file your tax return for 2018, the loss year. You have until the unextended due date of the 2018 return to file an amended 2017 return to claim the disaster loss. Before making the decision to claim the loss in 2017, you should consider which year’s return would produce the greater tax benefit, as opposed to your desire for a quicker refund.

If you elect to claim the loss on either your 2017 original or amended return, you can generally expect to receive the refund within a matter of weeks, which can help to pay some of your repair costs.

If the casualty loss, net of insurance reimbursement, is extensive enough to offset all of the income on the return, and results in negative income, you may have what is referred to as a net operating loss (NOL). Because tax reform changed how NOLs are treated after 2017 your decision whether to claim the loss in the current year or the prior year will have significant tax ramifications.

  • Claimed in 2017 – If the loss is claimed in 2017 and results in an NOL, that NOL is carried back two years and the forward 20. Meaning if the loss results in a negative 2017 income the NOL can be carried back to your 2015 return before being carried forward.
  • Claimed in 2018 – Tax reform changed the treatment of NOLs and as a result no longer be carried back to prior years. In addition, NOL occurring in 2018 and subsequent years can only offset 80% of a subsequent years taxable income. Determining the more beneficial year in which to claim the loss requires a careful evaluation of your entire tax picture for both years, including filing status, amount of income and other deductions, and the applicable tax rates. The analysis should also consider the effect of a potential NOL. 

Casualty losses are deductible only to the extent they exceed $100 plus 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Thus, a year with a larger amount of AGI will cut into your allowable loss deduction and can be a factor when choosing which year to claim the loss.

For verification purposes, keep copies of local newspaper articles and/or photos that will help prove that your loss was caused by the specific disaster.

As strange as it may seem, a casualty might actually result in a gain. This sometimes occurs when insurance proceeds exceed the tax basis of the destroyed property. When a gain materializes, there are ways to exclude or postpone the tax on the gain.

If you need further information on disaster losses, your particular options for claiming the loss, or if you wish to amend your 2017 return to claim your loss, please call us to schedule an consultation.

You May Be Able to Sell Profitable Stocks Without Paying Any Tax

Taxpayers whose top marginal tax bracket is lower than 25% enjoy a long-term capital gain tax rate of zero. Yes, you read correctly: the tax on any long-term capital gains for taxpayers within the 10% or 15% tax bracket is zero! This can provide you with the opportunity to sell some of your winner stocks and pay no tax on the resulting gain. Long-term capital gains apply to stocks and other capital assets you have owned for a year and a day or longer.

Even if you want to hold on to the stock because it is performing well, you can sell it and immediately buy it back, allowing you to include the current accumulated gain in this year’s return with no tax while also reducing the amount of taxable gain in the future. If you are concerned about the so-called wash sale rules that require a taxpayer to wait 60 days before buying back stock, don’t be—the wash sale rules only apply to stocks sold at a loss.

To see if you can take advantage of this tax-saving strategy, you must determine if your taxable income without the potential sale is below the 25% tax bracket. The following table shows the point at which income becomes taxable at 25% for different filing statuses in 2017.

25% Tax Bracket Threshold for 2017
Filing Status
Single
Head of Household
Marrried Filing Jointly
Married Filing Separately
Taxable Income $37,950
$50,800
$75,900
$37,950
Example: Suppose you are filing married joint and your taxable income for the year is projected to be $50,000. From the table above, we find that the 25% tax bracket threshold for you is $75,900. This means you could add $25,900 ($75,900 − $50,000) in long-term capital gains to your income and pay zero tax on the capital gains.

Of course, this strategy must be worked out based upon your projected taxable income for the year, and your actual income could be more or less than the estimated amount, meaning that some of the gain may end up getting taxed if your income is greater than projected. Or if you overestimated your income, you will not have taken advantage of as much tax-free long-term capital gains as you might have been able to.

In addition, if you have any loser stocks, you can sell them for a loss, allowing you to bring in that much more zero-taxed long-term capital gains.

There are also somewhat rare situations where the increase in your adjusted gross income as a result of the added long-term capital gains could have unanticipated adverse effects on your taxes that could reduce the overall benefit of this strategy.

If you would like to take advantage of this strategy and need assistance in projecting your 2017 taxable income, checking for adverse effects of the strategy, and determining the approximate amount of long-term capital gains you can assimilate with zero tax, please give this office a call.