Posted in business
The IRS has just announced that it will begin accepting 2017 income tax returns on January 29. You may be more concerned about the April 17 filing deadline, or even the extended deadline of October 15 (if you file for an extension by April 17). After all, why go through the hassle of filing your return earlier than you have to?
But it can be a good idea to file as close to January 29 as possible: Doing so helps protect you from tax identity theft.
Here’s why early filing helps: In an all-too-common scam, thieves use victims’ personal information to file fraudulent tax returns electronically and claim bogus refunds. This is usually done early in the tax filing season. When the real taxpayers file, they’re notified that they’re attempting to file duplicate returns.
A victim typically discovers the fraud after he or she files a tax return and is informed by the IRS that the return has been rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the same tax year. The IRS then must determine who the legitimate taxpayer is.
Tax identity theft can cause major headaches to straighten out and significantly delay legitimate refunds. But if you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a potential thief that will be rejected — not yours.
The IRS is working with the tax industry and states to improve safeguards to protect taxpayers from tax identity theft. But filing early may be your best defense.
W-2s and 1099s
Of course, in order to file your tax return, you’ll need to have your W-2s and 1099s. So another key date to be aware of is January 31 — the deadline for employers to issue 2017 Form W-2 to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue Form 1099 to recipients of any 2017 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments.
If you don’t receive a W-2 or 1099, first contact the entity that should have issued it. If by mid-February you still haven’t received it, you can contact the IRS for help.
Of course, if you’ll be getting a refund, another good thing about filing early is that you’ll get your refund sooner. The IRS expects over 90% of refunds to be issued within 21 days.
E-filing and requesting a direct deposit refund generally will result in a quicker refund and also can be more secure. If you have questions about tax identity theft or would like help filing your 2017 return early, please contact us.
Last Updated by Admin on 2018-02-12 06:14:20 PM
Posted in general
As the end of the year approaches, most of us have a lot of things on our to-do lists, from gift shopping to donating to our favorite charities to making New Year’s Eve plans. For taxpayers “of a certain age” with a tax-advantaged retirement account, as well as younger taxpayers who’ve inherited such an account, there may be one more thing that’s critical to check off the to-do list before year end: Take required minimum distributions (RMDs).
A huge penalty
After you reach age 70½, you generally must take annual RMDs from your:
- IRAs (except Roth IRAs), and Defined contribution plans, such as 401(k) plans
- (unless you’re still an employee and not a 5%-or-greater shareholder of the employer
- sponsoring the plan).
An RMD deferral is available in the initial year, but then you’ll have to take two RMDs the next year. The RMD rule can be avoided for Roth 401(k) accounts by rolling the balance into a Roth IRA.
For taxpayers who inherit a retirement plan, the RMD rules generally apply to defined-contribution plans and both traditional and Roth IRAs. (Special rules apply when the account is inherited from a spouse.)
RMDs usually must be taken by December 31. If you don’t comply, you can owe a penalty equal to 50% of the amount you should have withdrawn but didn’t.
Should you withdraw more than the RMD?
Taking only RMDs generally is advantageous because of tax-deferred compounding. But a larger distribution in a year your tax bracket is low may save tax.
Be sure, however, to consider the lost future tax-deferred growth and, if applicable, whether the distribution could: 1) cause Social Security payments to become taxable, 2) increase income-based Medicare premiums and prescription drug charges, or 3) affect other tax breaks with income-based limits.
Also keep in mind that, while retirement plan distributions aren’t subject to the additional 0.9% Medicare tax or 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), they are included in your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). That means they could trigger or increase the NIIT, because the thresholds for that tax are based on MAGI.
Last Updated by Admin on 2017-12-07 03:44:45 PM
Posted in general
As the holiday season quickly approaches, gift giving will be top of mind. While gifts of electronics, toys and clothes are nice, making tax-free gifts of cash using your annual exclusion is beneficial for both you and your family.
Even in a potentially changing estate tax environment, making annual exclusion gifts before year end can still benefit your estate plan.
Understanding the annual exclusion
The 2017 gift tax annual exclusion allows you to give up to $14,000 per recipient tax-free without using up any of your $5.49 million lifetime gift tax exemption. If you and your spouse “split” the gift, you can give $28,000 per recipient. The gifts are also generally excluded from the generation-skipping transfer tax, which typically applies to transfers to grandchildren and others more than one generation below you.
The gifted assets are removed from your taxable estate, which can be especially advantageous if you expect them to appreciate. That’s because the future appreciation can also avoid gift and estate taxes.
Making gifts in 2017 and beyond
Be aware that time is running out to make annual exclusion gifts this year: December 31 is the deadline. It’s also important to know that next year the exclusion amount increases for the first time since 2013, to $15,000 ($30,000 for split gifts). And the inflation-adjusted gift and estate tax exemption is currently scheduled to increase to $5.6 million in 2018.
It’s also important to keep an eye on Congress. With both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate now having released their tax reform bills, more details regarding the potential future of the estate tax have emerged. But what, if any, estate tax law changes are ultimately passed remains to be seen. Even if the estate tax is repealed, it likely won’t be permanent. And current proposals retain the gift tax. So making 2017 annual exclusion gifts can still be a tax-smart move.
Last Updated by Admin on 2017-12-07 03:40:02 PM
Posted in general
For families with disabled family members who’re potentially eligible for means-tested government benefits such as Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), estate planning can be a challenge. On the one hand, you want to provide the most comfortable life possible for your loved one. On the other hand, you don’t want to jeopardize his or her eligibility for needed government benefits.
For many years, the most effective solution to this problem has been to set up a special needs trust (SNT). But beginning in 2014, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act created Internal Revenue Code Section 529A, which authorizes the states to offer tax-advantaged savings accounts for the blind and severely disabled, similar to Sec. 529 college savings plans.
How ABLE accounts work
The ABLE Act allows family members and others to make nondeductible cash contributions to a qualified beneficiary’s ABLE account, with total annual contributions limited to the federal gift tax annual exclusion amount (currently, $14,000). To qualify, a beneficiary must have become blind or disabled before age 26.
The account grows tax-free, and earnings may be withdrawn tax-free provided they’re used to pay “qualified disability expenses.” These include health care, education, housing, transportation, employment training, assistive technology, personal support services, financial management and legal expenses.
An ABLE account generally won’t affect the beneficiary’s eligibility for Medicaid and SSI — which limits a recipient’s “countable assets” to $2,000 — with a couple of exceptions. First, distributions from an ABLE account used to pay housing expenses are countable assets. Second, if an ABLE account’s balance grows beyond $100,000, the beneficiary’s eligibility for SSI is suspended until the balance is brought below that threshold.
Comparison with SNTs
Here’s a quick review of a few of the relative advantages and disadvantages of ABLE accounts and SNTs:
Availability. Anyone can establish an SNT, but ABLE accounts are available only if your home state offers them, or contracts with another state to make them available. Also, as previously noted, ABLE account beneficiaries must have become blind or disabled before age 26. There’s no age restriction for SNTs.
Qualified expenses. ABLE accounts may be used to pay only specified types of expenses. SNTs may be used for any expenses the government doesn’t pay for, including “quality-of-life” expenses, such as travel, recreation, hobbies and entertainment.
Tax treatment. An ABLE account’s earnings and qualified distributions are tax-free. An SNT’s earnings are taxable.
Last Updated by Admin on 2017-07-25 01:47:02 PM
Posted in general
Income and losses from investment real estate or rental property are passive by definition — unless you’re a real estate professional. Why does this matter? Passive income may be subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), and passive losses generally are deductible only against passive income, with the excess being carried forward.
Of course the NIIT is part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and might be eliminated under ACA repeal and replace legislation or tax reform legislation. But if/when such legislation will be passed and signed into law is uncertain. Even if the NIIT is eliminated, the passive loss issue will still be an important one for many taxpayers investing in real estate.
To qualify as a real estate professional, you must annually perform:
- More than 50% of your personal services in real property trades or businesses in which you materially participate, and
- More than 750 hours of service in these businesses.
Each year stands on its own, and there are other nuances. (Special rules for spouses may help you meet the 750-hour test.)
If you’re concerned you’ll fail either test and be subject to the 3.8% NIIT or stuck with passive losses, consider doing one of the following:
Increasing your involvement in the real estate activity. If you can pass the real estate professional tests, the activity no longer will be subject to passive activity rules.
Looking at other activities. If you have passive losses from your real estate investment, consider investing in another income-producing trade or business that will be passive to you. That way, you’ll have passive income that can absorb some or all of your passive losses.
Disposing of the activity. This generally allows you to deduct all passive losses — including any loss on disposition (subject to basis and capital loss limitations). But, again, the rules are complex.
Also be aware that the IRS frequently challenges claims of real estate professional status — and is often successful. One situation where the IRS commonly prevails is when the taxpayer didn’t keep adequate records of time spent on real estate activities.
Last Updated by Admin on 2017-07-25 01:47:37 PM
Posted in general
You may be tempted to forget all about taxes during summertime, when “the livin’ is easy,” as the Gershwin song goes. But if you start your tax planning now, you may avoid an unpleasant tax surprise when you file next year. Summer is also a good time to set up a storage system for your tax records. Here are some tips:
Take action when life changes occur. Some life events (such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child) can change the amount of tax you owe. When they happen, you may need to change the amount of tax withheld from your pay. To do that, file a new Form W-4 with your employer. If you make estimated payments, those may need to be changed as well.
Keep records accessible but safe. Put your 2016 tax return and supporting records together in a place where you can easily find them if you need them, such as if you’re ever audited by the IRS. You also may need a copy of your tax return if you apply for a home loan or financial aid. Although accessibility is important, so is safety.
A good storage medium for hard copies of important personal documents like tax returns is a fire-, water- and impact-resistant security cabinet or safe. You may want to maintain a duplicate set of records in another location, such as a bank safety deposit box. You can also store copies of records electronically. Simply scan your documents and save them to an external storage device (which you can keep in your home safe or bank safety deposit box). If opting for a cloud-based backup system, choose your provider carefully to ensure its security measures are as stringent as possible.
Stay organized. Make tax time easier by putting records you’ll need when you file in the same place during the year. That way you won’t have to search for misplaced records next February or March. Some examples include substantiation of charitable donations, receipts from work-related travel not reimbursed by your employer, and documentation of medical expenses not reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account.
Last Updated by Admin on 2017-07-19 02:02:37 PM
Posted in general
Now that we’ve hit midsummer, if you own a vacation home that you both rent out and use personally, it’s a good time to review the potential tax consequences:
If you rent it out for less than 15 days: You don’t have to report the income. But expenses associated with the rental (such as advertising and cleaning) won’t be deductible.
If you rent it out for 15 days or more: You must report the income. But what expenses you can deduct depends on how the home is classified for tax purposes, based on the amount of personal vs. rental use:
- Rental property. If you (or your immediate family) use the home for 14 days or less, or under 10% of the days you rent out the property, whichever is greater, the IRS will classify the home as a rental property. You can deduct rental expenses, including losses, subject to the real estate activity rules. You can’t deduct any interest that’s attributable to your personal use of the home, but you can take the personal portion of property tax as an itemized deduction.
- Nonrental property. If you (or your immediate family) use the home for more than 14 days or 10% of the days you rent out the property, whichever is greater, the IRS will classify the home as a personal residence, but you will still have to report the rental income. You can deduct rental expenses only to the extent of your rental income. Any excess can be carried forward to offset rental income in future years. You also can take an itemized deduction for the personal portion of both mortgage interest and property tax.
Look at the use of your vacation home year-to-date to project how it will be classified for tax purposes. Adjusting the number of days you rent it out and/or use it personally between now and year end might allow the home to be classified in a more beneficial way.
Last Updated by Admin on 2017-07-18 02:16:40 PM
Posted in general
Grandparents often want to play a role in financing their grandchildren’s education. If you’re one of them, it’s important to consider the impact that different financing options will have on your estate plan.
Make direct tuition payments
A simple but effective technique is to make tuition payments on behalf of your grandchild. So long as you make the payments directly to the educational institution, they avoid gift and generation-skipping transfer (GST) taxes without using up any of your $5.49 million gift or GST tax exemption or $14,000 gift tax annual exclusion.
But this technique is available only for tuition, not for other expenses, such as room and board, fees, books, and equipment. So it may be desirable to combine it with other techniques.
Is a HEET an option?
Another disadvantage of direct payments is that, if you wait until the student has tuition bills to pay, there’s a risk that you’ll die before the funds are removed from your estate. Other techniques allow you to set aside funds for future education expenses, shielding those funds from estate taxes. A tool that’s particularly attractive for grandparents is the health and education exclusion trust (HEET).
A HEET is a “dynasty” trust designed to make direct payments of tuition (and, if you desire, medical expenses) on behalf of its beneficiaries. You can use your annual exclusions and lifetime exemption to make gift-tax-free contributions. Contributed assets are removed from your estate.
Most significant, a properly designed HEET allows you to avoid GST tax without using up any of your GST tax exemption. A trust can trigger GST taxes in two ways: 1) a taxable distribution to your grandchild or another “skip person” (that is, a person more than one generation below you), or 2) a taxable termination, in which all nonskip trust interests terminate and only skip interests remain.
A HEET avoids taxable distributions by making direct payments to educational or health care organizations. And it avoids taxable terminations by granting a significant interest (usually 10% or more) to a charity, which ensures that there’s always at least one nonskip interest.
Explore all of your options
It’s possible that gift, estate and GST taxes could be repealed later this year. But even if this happens, as long as funding your grandchild’s education is an important goal of yours, implementing one or both of these strategies likely won’t have any negative impact. And doing so can be beneficial if these taxes aren’t repealed or if they return in the future. If you’d like to learn more about your options to help fund your grandchild’s education expenses, please contact us.
Last Updated by Admin on 2017-06-21 02:52:00 PM
Posted in general
Estate planning isn’t just about what happens to your assets after you die. It’s also about protecting yourself and your loved ones. This includes having a plan for making critical medical decisions in the event you’re unable to make them yourself. And, as with other aspects of your estate plan, the time to act is now, while you’re healthy. If an illness or injury renders you unconscious or otherwise incapacitated, it will be too late.
Without a plan that expresses your wishes, your family may have to make medical decisions on your behalf or petition a court for a conservatorship. Either way, there’s no guarantee that these decisions will be made the way you would want, or by the person you would choose.
2 documents, 2 purposes
To ensure that your wishes are carried out, and that your family is spared the burden of guessing — or arguing over — what you would decide, put those wishes in writing. Generally, that means executing two documents: 1) a living will and 2) a health care power of attorney (HCPA).
Unfortunately, these documents are known by many different names, which can lead to confusion. Living wills are sometimes called “advance directives,” or “health care directives.” And HCPAs may also be known as “durable powers of attorney for health care” or “health care proxies.”
Regardless of terminology, these documents serve two purposes: 1) to guide health care providers in the event you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious, and 2) to appoint someone you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf.
A living will expresses your preferences for the use of life-sustaining medical procedures, such as artificial feeding and breathing, surgery, invasive diagnostic tests, and pain medication. It also specifies the situations in which these procedures should be used or withheld.
An HCPA authorizes a surrogate — your spouse, child or another trusted representative — to make medical decisions or consent to medical treatment on your behalf when you’re unable to do so. It’s broader than a living will, which generally is limited to end-of-life situations, although there may be some overlap.
Put your plan into action
No matter how carefully you plan, living wills and HCPAs are effective only if your documents are readily accessible and health care providers honor them. Contact us with questions.
Last Updated by Admin on 2017-06-21 02:45:15 PM
Posted in general
Whether you filed your 2016 tax return by the April 18 deadline or you filed for an extension, you may be overwhelmed by the amount of documentation involved. While you need to hold on to all of your 2016 tax records for now, it’s a great time to take a look at your records for previous tax years to see what you can purge.
Consider the statute of limitations
At minimum, keep tax records for as long as the IRS has the ability to audit your return or assess additional taxes, which generally is three years after you file your return. This means you likely can shred and toss — or electronically purge — most records related to tax returns for 2013 and earlier years (2012 and earlier if you filed for an extension for 2013).
In some cases, the statute of limitations extends beyond three years. If you understate your adjusted gross income by more than 25%, for example, the limitations period jumps to six years. And there is no statute of limitations if you fail to file a tax return or file a fraudulent one.
Keep some documents longer
You’ll need to hang on to certain records beyond the statute of limitations:
Tax returns. Keep them forever, so you can prove to the IRS that you actually filed.
W-2 forms. Consider holding them until you begin receiving Social Security benefits. Why? In case a question arises regarding your work record or earnings for a particular year.
Records related to real estate or investments. Keep these as long as you own the asset, plus three years after you sell it and report the sale on your tax return (or six years if you’re concerned about the six-year statute of limitations).
This is only a sampling of retention guidelines for tax-related documents. If you have questions about other documents, please contact us.
Last Updated by Admin on 2017-05-05 05:05:24 PM
Posted in estate planning
It’s crucial to review and update your estate plan in light of significant life changes or new tax laws. It’s equally important to be aware of strategies that can be implemented after your death to achieve your estate planning goals. The flexibility postmortem strategies provide is especially important during times of estate tax law uncertainty, like now. If you’re married, here are two postmortem estate planning strategies you should know about. 1. Spousal right of election The spousal right of election provides a way to alter the planned distribution of your wealth after you’re gone. In most states, a surviving spouse has the right to circumvent his or her spouse’s will and take an elective share (one-half or one-third, for instance) of certain property. So, for example, let’s say you leave all of your assets to your children or other beneficiaries. Your spouse might exercise his or her right of election if it would produce a more favorable tax outcome. Even if the federal estate tax is repealed, which is on the agenda of President Trump and the Republican majority in Congress, there may be state estate tax or income tax consequences to consider. 2. QTIP trust Qualified terminable interest property (QTIP) trusts are often used to take advantage of the marital deduction while ensuring that assets are preserved for the children (particularly children from a previous marriage). They also receive some creditor protection. Ordinarily, to qualify for the marital deduction (which allows assets to transfer from one spouse to the other free of federal gift and estate tax), you must transfer assets to your spouse with no strings attached. The QTIP trust is an exception to this rule. So long as your spouse receives all of the QTIP trust income for life and certain other requirements are met, your estate can enjoy the benefits of the marital deduction while still preserving assets for your children or other beneficiaries. When your spouse dies, any remaining trust assets pass to your beneficiaries but are included in your spouse’s taxable estate. Here’s where the postmortem planning comes in: To claim the marital deduction for amounts transferred to a QTIP trust, your executor (called a “personal representative” in some states) must make an election on your estate tax return. A properly designed QTIP trust gives your executor the flexibility to make the election, not make the election or make a partial election, depending on which strategy would produce the optimal results. Because a QTIP trust creates opportunities for postmortem estate planning, it may be a good strategy even if you don’t need it to protect your children or assets. Contact us to learn more about postmortem estate planning strategies.
Last Updated by Admin on 2017-04-05 04:38:28 PM