Posted on Jan 9, 2018

As you’ve heard by now, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) includes a number of changes that will affect individual taxpayers in 2018 and beyond. Significant attention has been given to the reduced tax rates for most individuals and the new limit on deducting state and local taxes. But there is more to the story. Here’s a summary of some of the lesser-known provisions in the new law.

Repeal of the ACA Penalty for Individuals

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires individuals to pay a penalty if they aren’t covered by a health plan that provides at least minimum essential coverage. That penalty is also known as the “shared responsibility payment.” Unless an exception applies, the penalty is imposed for any month that an individual doesn’t have minimum essential coverage in effect.

The new tax law permanently repeals the ACA penalty for individuals for months beginning in 2019. But the penalty is still in force for all of 2018. The new tax law doesn’t change the ACA mandate for employers, however.

Revamped “Kiddie Tax”

Under prior law (in effect before the TCJA), unearned income of children above an annual threshold was taxed at their parents’ rates if those rates were higher. This so-called “kiddie tax” is imposed on individuals up to age 24 if they’re full-time students. For 2017, the unearned income threshold was $2,100. Unearned income beneath the threshold was taxed at the children’s rates. Earned income was also taxed at the children’s rates.

For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA stipulates that a child’s earned income is taxed at the standard rates for single taxpayers while unearned income is taxed using the rates and brackets that apply to trusts and estates. This change will make the kiddie tax much easier to calculate.

Restriction on Casualty and Theft Loss Deductions

For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA eliminates deductions for personal casualty and theft losses. However, it provides an exception for losses incurred in federally-declared disasters.

Another exception for losses, which aren’t due to federally-declared disasters, allows deductions for personal casualty and theft losses if the taxpayer has personal casualty gains. That happens when insurance proceeds exceed the basis of the damaged, destroyed or stolen property. In this situation, personal casualty and theft losses are allowed up to the amount of the taxpayer’s personal casualty gains.

Itemized Deduction Phase-Out Rule Eliminated

Under prior law, individuals with high levels of income were subject to a phase-out rule that could eliminate up to 80% of the most common itemized deductions, including the tax breaks for mortgage interest, property taxes and charitable donations.

For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA eliminates the itemized deduction phase-out rule. But some of the itemized deduction rules are changed (and limited) by other provisions in the new law. For example, the TCJA limits the deduction for state and local income and property taxes to a combined total of $10,000 ($5,000 for married people who file separately).

Changes to Charitable Deduction Rules

The TCJA also increases the charitable deduction limit for some gifts. Under prior law, the deduction for cash contributions to public charities and certain private foundations was limited to 50% of your adjusted gross income (AGI).

For 2018 and beyond, the new law increases the deduction limit to 60% of AGI. Deductions that are disallowed by the 60% rule can generally be carried forward for five years.

But not all changes to the charitable deduction rules are taxpayer friendly. The TCJA also eliminates deductions for donations to obtain seating rights at college athletic events, for 2018 and beyond.

Under prior law, you could treat 80% of such payments as a charitable donation if:

    • The payment was to or for the benefit of a college, and
    • The payment would be treated as a deductible charitable donation except for the fact that the payment entitled you to receive (directly or indirectly) the right to buy tickets to athletic events of the college.

Restrictions on Deducting Gambling-Related Expenses

For 2018 through 2025, the TCJA limits deductions for a year’s out-of-pocket gambling-related expenses and gambling losses (combined) to that year’s gambling winnings.

Under prior law, a professional gambler could deduct out-of-pocket gambling-related expenses as a business expense. Only deductions for actual gambling losses were limited to gambling winnings.

Sweeping Changes

The TCJA is the biggest piece of tax reform legislation that’s been enacted since the landmark Tax Reform Act of 1986. It’s expected to have a major impact on individual taxpayers in 2018. Want to learn more? Consult with your tax advisor; it’s never too soon to plan for this year and beyond.

New Law Eliminates Miscellaneous Itemized Deductions

The new tax law eliminates most itemized deductions, starting in 2018. Under prior law, the following deductions were deductible if they exceeded 2% of your adjusted gross income. For 2018 through 2025, this change eliminates deductions for a wide variety of expenses, such as:

Tax-Related Expenses

  • Tax preparation expenses,
  • Tax advice fees, and
  • Other fees and expenses incurred in connection with the determination, collection, or refund of any tax.

Expenses Related to Taxable Investments

  • Investment advisory fees and expenses,
  • Clerical help and office rent for office used to manage investments,
  • Expenses for home office used to manage investments,
  • Depreciation of computer and electronics used to manage investments,
  • Fees to collect interest and dividends,
  • Your share of investment expenses passed through to you from partnership, limited liability company or S corporation,
  • Safe deposit box rental fee for box used to store investment items and documents, and
  • Other investment-related fees and expenses.

Expenses Related to Production of Taxable Income

  • Hobby expenses (limited to hobby income),
  • IRA trustee/custodian fees if separately billed to you and paid by you as the account owner,
  • Loss on liquidation of traditional IRAs or Roth IRAs,
  • Bad debt loss for uncollectible loan made to employer to preserve your job, and
  • Damages paid to former employer for breach of employment contract.

Unreimbursed Employee Business Expenses

  • Education expenses related to your work as an employee,
  • Travel expenses related to your work as an employee,
  • Passport fees for business trips,
  • Professional society dues,
  • Professional license fees,
  • Subscriptions to professional journals and trade publications,
  • Home office used regularly and exclusively in your work as an employee and for the convenience of your employer,
  • Depreciation of a computer that your employer requires you to use,
  • Tools and supplies used in your work as an employee,
  • Union dues and expenses,
  • Work clothes and uniforms if required for your work and not suitable for everyday use,
  • Legal fees related to your work as an employee, and
  • Job search expenses to seek new employment in your current profession or occupation.
Posted on Dec 20, 2017

On December 19, the House approved H.R. 1, the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” the sweeping tax reform measure, by a vote of 227 to 203. Shortly thereafter, the Senate encountered some procedural complications and ultimately passed a revised version of the bill later that night by a margin of 51 to 48. The revised version of the bill carries the title “An Act to provide for reconciliation pursuant to titles II and V of the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2018.” This special report refers to the Act by its former and commonly used name: The “Tax Cuts and Job Act.” The revised bill was again approved by the House on Wednesday, December 20th, and is now on its way to President Trump’s desk for his expected signature.

The bill has taken shape at breakneck pace over the past two months, making it difficult for even seasoned tax practitioners to know exactly where things stand. The bill itself is massive and contains many tax law changes, some of which are extremely complex, and many of which go into effect in a matter of weeks.

This special report explains the changes that affect the taxation of individuals. In addition to providing a summary of the changes, it also clearly sets out the effective dates (which in many cases include an expiration date, or “sunset”), the Code section(s) affected, the bill’s section number, and a recitation of prior law to put the amendment into context.

This information will help practitioners prepare for the year ahead, which will likely include squeezing in last-minute tax planning moves in 2017 to take advantage of provisions still on the books that won’t be available next year. For example, a taxpayer who will itemize in 2017 but will likely be taking the larger standard deduction next year may benefit from making charitable contributions this year instead of next and from accelerating certain discretionary medical expenses into this year, for which a retroactively lower “floor” limiting medical expense deductions is in effect. In many cases, 2017 itemizing taxpayers should pay all of 2017 state and local taxes (“SALT”) this year (even if the due date for the last installment is in 2018) and consider making prepayments (e.g., of property taxes) in light of the significant reduction in the SALT deduction going into effect next year. Many taxpayers should also consider ways of deferring income to take advantage of the lower rates going into effect next year.

This report sets out all of these changes, as well as many others including dramatic changes to the tax treatment of alimony and a new rule that disallows the use of a re-characterization to unwind Roth IRA conversions.

Download the Special Study here.

To learn more about how the new tax laws will affect you, contact one of Cornwell Jackson’s tax specialists today.

Scott Allen, CPA, joined Cornwell Jackson as a Tax Partner in 2016, bringing his expertise in the Construction and Oil and Gas industries, and 25 years of experience in the accounting field. As the Partner in Charge of the Tax practice at Cornwell Jackson, Scott provides proactive tax planning and tax compliance to all Cornwell Jackson tax clients. Contact him at Scott.Allen@cornwelljackson.com or 972-202-8032.

Posted on Aug 1, 2016
Tax forms 1065
Tax forms 1065

Unless you’ve extended the due date for filing last year’s individual federal income tax return to October 17, the filing deadline passed you by in April. What if you didn’t extend and you haven’t yet filed your Form 1040? And what if you can’t pay your tax bill? This article explains how to handle these situations.

“I Didn’t File but I Don’t Owe”

Let’s say you’re certain that you don’t owe any federal income tax for last year. Maybe you had negative taxable income or paid your fair share via withholding or estimated tax payments. But you didn’t file or extend the deadline because you were missing some records, were too busy, or had some other convincing reason (to you) for not meeting the deadline.

No problem, since you don’t owe — right? Wrong.

While it’s true there won’t be IRS interest or penalties (these are based on your unpaid liability, which you don’t have), blowing off filing is still a bad idea. For example:

You may be due a refund. Filing a return gets your money back. Without a return, there is no refund.
Until a return is filed, the three-year statute-of-limitations period for the commencement of an IRS audit never gets started. The IRS could then decide to audit your 2015 tax situation five years (or more) from now and hit you with a tax bill plus interest and penalties. By then, you may not be able to prove that you actually owed nothing. In contrast, when you do the smart thing and file a 2015 return showing zero tax due, the government must generally begin any audit within three years. Once the three-year window closes, your 2015 tax year is generally safe from audit, even if the return had problems.
If you had a tax loss in 2015, you may be able to carry it back as far as your 2013 tax year and claim refunds for taxes paid in 2013 and/or 2014. However, until you file a 2015 return, your tax loss doesn’t officially exist, and no loss carryback refund claims are possible.
There are other more esoteric reasons that apply to taxpayers in specific situations.

The bottom line is, you should file a 2015 return, even though you’ve missed the deadline and believe you don’t owe.

“I Owe but Don’t Have the Dough”

In this situation, there’s no excuse for not filing your 2015 return, especially if you obtained a filing extension to October 17.

If you did extend, filing your return by October 17 will avoid the 5%-per-month “failure-to-file” penalty. The only cost for failing to pay what you owe is an interest charge. The current rate is a relatively reasonable 0.83% per month, which amounts to a 10% annual rate. This rate can change quarterly, and you’ll continue to incur it until you pay up. If you still can’t pay when you file by the extended October 17 due date, relax. You can arrange for an installment arrangement (see below).

If you didn’t extend, you’ll continue to incur the 5%-per-month failure-to-file penalty until it cuts off:

Five months after the April 19 due date for filing your 2015 return or
When you file, whichever occurs sooner.
While the penalty can’t be assessed for more than five months, it can amount to up to 25% of your unpaid tax bill (5 times 5% per month equals 25%). So you can still save some money by filing your 2015 return as soon as possible to cut off the 5%-per-month penalty. Then you’ll continue to be charged only the IRS interest rate — currently 0.83% per month — until you pay.

If you still don’t file your 2015 return, the IRS will collect the resulting penalty and interest. You’ll be charged the failure-to-file penalty until it hits 25% of what you owe. For example, if your unpaid balance is $10,000, you’ll rack up monthly failure-to-file penalties of $500 until you max out at $2,500. After that, you’ll be charged interest until you settle your account (at the current monthly rate of 0.83%).

Save Money with an Installment Agreement

By now you understand why filing your 2015 return is crucial even if you don’t have the money to pay what you owe. But you may ask: When do I have to come up with the balance due? The answer: As soon as possible, if you want to halt the IRS interest charge. If you can borrow at a reasonable rate, you may want to do so and pay off the government, hopefully at the same time you file your return or even sooner if possible.

Alternatively, you can usually request permission from the IRS to pay off your bill in installments. This is done by filing a form with your 2015 return. On the form, you suggest your own terms. For example, if you owe $5,000, you might offer to pay $250 on the first of each month. You’re supposed to get an answer to your installment payment application within 31 days of filing the form, but it sometimes takes a bit longer. Upon approval, you’ll be charged a $120 setup fee or $52 if you agree to automatic withdrawals from your bank account.

As long as you have an unpaid balance, you’ll be charged interest (currently at 0.583% a month, which equates to a 7% annual rate), but this may be much lower than you could arrange with a commercial lender. Other details:

Approval of your installment payment request is automatic if you owe $10,000 or less (not counting interest or penalties), propose a repayment period of 36 months or less, haven’t entered into an earlier installment agreement within the preceding five years, and have filed returns and paid taxes for the preceding five tax years.
A streamlined installment payment approval process is available if you owe between $10,001 and $25,000 (including any assessed interest and penalties) and propose a repayment period of 72 months or less.
Another streamlined process is available if you owe between $25,001 and $50,000 and propose a repayment period of 72 months or less. However, you must agree to automatic bank withdrawals, and you may have to supply financial information.
If you owe $50,000 or less, you can apply for an installment payment arrangement online instead of filing an IRS form.
Finally, if you can pay what you owe within 120 days, you can arrange for an agreement with the IRS and avoid any setup fee.
Warning: When you enter into an installment agreement, you must pledge to stay current on your future taxes. The government is willing to help with your 2015 unpaid liability, but it won’t agree to defer payments for later years while you’re still paying the 2015 tab.

Pay With a Credit Card

You can also pay your federal tax bill with Visa, MasterCard, Discover or American Express. But before pursuing this option, ask about the one-time fee your credit card company will charge and the interest rate. You may find the IRS installment payment program is a better deal.

Act Soon

Filing a 2015 federal income return is important even if you believe you don’t owe anything or can’t pay right now. If you need assistance or want more information, contact your tax adviser.

Posted on Jan 22, 2016

At the end of last year, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 was signed into law. Known as the PATH Act, it does more than just extend expired and expiring tax provisions for another year. The new law makes many temporary tax breaks permanent.

This provides some stability in planning. When it comes to certain deductions and credits, taxpayers will no longer have to wait for Congress to pass a temporary tax extenders law — often at the end of the year — in order to plan tax-saving strategies.

Here’s an overview of how individuals and businesses can benefit from the latest tax package.

Tax Breaks for Individuals

American Opportunity education credit. Eligible taxpayers can take an annual credit of up to $2,500 for various tuition and related expenses for each of the first four years of postsecondary education. The credit phases out based on modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) beginning at $80,000 for single filers and $160,000 for joint filers, indexed for inflation. The new law makes this credit permanent.

Tuition and fees deduction. The new law extends through 2016 the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses for higher education. The deduction is capped at $4,000 for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income (AGI) doesn’t exceed $65,000 ($130,000 for joint filers) or, for those beyond those amounts, $2,000 for taxpayers whose AGI doesn’t exceed $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers).

Small business stock gains exclusion. The PATH Act makes permanent the exclusion of 100% of the gain on the sale or exchange of qualified small business (QSB) stock acquired and held for more than five years. The 100% exclusion is available for QSB stock acquired after September 27, 2010.

A QSB is generally a domestic C corporation that has gross assets of no more than $50 million at any time (including when the stock is issued) and uses at least 80% of its assets in an active trade or business. The law also permanently extends the rule that eliminates QSB stock gain as a preference item for alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes.

Charitable giving from IRAs. The PATH Act makes permanent the provision that allows taxpayers who are age 70½ or older to make direct contributions from their IRAs to qualified charitable organizations up to $100,000 per tax year. If you take advantage of this opportunity, you can’t claim a charitable or other deduction for the contributions, but the amounts aren’t considered taxable income and can be used to satisfy your required minimum distributions.

To qualify for the exclusion from income for IRA contributions for a tax year, you need to arrange a direct transfer by the IRA trustee to an eligible charity by December 31. Donor-advised funds and supporting organizations aren’t eligible recipients.

Transit benefits. Do you commute to work via a van pool or public transportation? The law makes permanent the requirement that limits on the amounts that can be excluded from an employee’s wages for income and payroll tax purposes be the same for parking benefits and van pooling / mass transit benefits.

For 2015, the monthly limit is $250. Before the PATH Act, the 2015 monthly limit was only $130 for van pooling / mass transit benefits. (The $250 limit increases to $255 for 2016.)

State and local sales tax deduction. Taxpayers can take an itemized deduction for state and local sales taxes, instead of for state and local income taxes. This tax break is now permanent. The deduction is especially valuable for individuals who live in states without income taxes and those who purchase major items, such as a car or boat.

Energy tax credit. The PATH Act extends through 2016 the credit for purchases of residential energy property. Examples include new high-efficiency heating and air conditioning systems, insulation, energy-efficient exterior windows and doors, high-efficiency water heaters and stoves that burn biomass fuel.

The provision allows a credit of 10% of expenditures for qualified energy improvements, up to a lifetime limit of $500.

Mortgage-related tax breaks. Under the new law, you can treat qualified mortgage insurance premiums as interest for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction through 2016. However, the deduction phases out for taxpayers with AGI of $100,000 to $110,000.

In addition, the PATH Act extends through 2016 the exclusion from gross income for mortgage loan forgiveness. It also modifies the exclusion to apply to mortgage forgiveness that occurs in 2017 as long as it’s granted pursuant to a written agreement entered into in 2016.

Educator expense deductions. Qualifying elementary and secondary school teachers can claim an above-the-line deduction for up to $250 per year of expenses paid or incurred for books, certain supplies, computer and other equipment, and supplementary materials used in the classroom. Under the new law, beginning in 2016, the deduction is indexed for inflation and includes professional development expenses.

Tax Breaks for Businesses

Section 179 deduction. Tax law allows businesses to elect to immediately deduct — or expense — the cost of certain tangible personal property acquired and placed in service during the tax year. The Section 179 deduction is in lieu of recovering the costs more slowly through depreciation deductions. Keep in mind the election can only offset net income — it can’t reduce it below $0 to create a net operating loss. There are also other restrictions.

The election is also subject to annual dollar limits. For 2014, businesses could expense up to $500,000 in qualified new or used assets, subject to a dollar-for-dollar phaseout once the cost of all qualifying property placed in service during the tax year exceeded $2 million. Without the PATH Act, the expensing limit and the phaseout amounts for 2015 would have sunk to $25,000 and $200,000, respectively.

The new law makes the higher limits permanent and indexes them for inflation beginning in 2016. It also makes permanent the ability to apply Sec. 179 expensing to qualified real property, reviving the 2014 limit of $250,000 on such property for 2015 but raising it to the full Sec. 179 limit beginning in 2016. Qualified real property includes qualified leasehold-improvement, restaurant and retail-improvement property.

Finally, the new law permanently includes off-the-shelf computer software on the list of qualified property. And, beginning in 2016, it adds air conditioning and heating units.

Bonus depreciation. Bonus depreciation allows businesses to recover the costs of depreciable property more quickly by claiming bonus first-year depreciation for qualified assets. It’s been extended, but only through 2019 and with declining benefits in the later years. For property placed in service during 2015, 2016 and 2017, the bonus depreciation percentage is 50%. It drops to 40% for 2018 and 30% for 2019.

The provision continues to allow businesses to claim unused AMT credits in lieu of bonus depreciation. Beginning in 2016, the amount of unused AMT credits that may be claimed increases.

Qualified assets include new tangible property with a recovery period of 20 years or less (such as office furniture and equipment), off-the-shelf computer software, water utility property and qualified leasehold-improvement property. Beginning in 2016, qualified improvement property doesn’t have to be leased to be eligible for bonus depreciation.

Accelerated depreciation of qualified real property. The PATH Act permanently extends the 15-year straight-line cost recovery period for qualified leasehold improvements (building alterations to suit the needs of a tenant), qualified restaurant property and qualified retail-improvement property. These expenditures are now exempt from the normal 39-year depreciation period.

This is beneficial for restaurants and retailers because they tend to remodel periodically. If eligible, they may first apply Section 179 expensing and then enjoy this accelerated depreciation on qualified expenses in excess of the applicable Section 179 limit.

Research credit. This valuable credit provides an incentive for businesses to increase their investments in research. However, the temporary nature of the credit deterred some businesses from pursuing critical innovations.

The PATH Act permanently extends the credit. Additionally, beginning in 2016, businesses with $50 million or less in gross receipts can claim the credit against AMT liability, and certain start-ups (generally, those with less than $5 million in gross receipts) that haven’t yet incurred income tax liability can use the credit against their payroll tax.

Work Opportunity tax credit. Employers that hire individuals who are members of a “target group” can claim this credit, which has been extended through 2019. The new law also expands the credit beginning in 2016 to apply to employers that hire qualified individuals who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more.

The credit amount varies depending on:

  • The target group of the individual hired;
  • Wages paid to the employee; and
  • Hours worked by the new hire during the first year of employment.

The maximum credit that can be earned for each qualified adult employee is generally $2,400. The credit can be as high as $9,600 per qualified veteran. Employers aren’t subject to a limit on the number of eligible individuals they can hire.

You must obtain certification that an employee is a member of a target group from the appropriate State Workforce Agency before claiming the credit. The certification must be requested within 28 days after the employee begins work. For 2015, the IRS may extend the deadline as it did for 2014, when legislation reviving the credit for that year wasn’t passed until late in the year — meaning that the 28-day period had already expired for many covered employees hired in 2014.

Food inventory donations. The PATH Act makes permanent the enhanced deduction for contributions of food inventory for non-corporate business taxpayers. Under the enhanced deduction (which is already permanently available to C corporations), the lesser of basis plus one-half of the item’s appreciation or two times basis can be deducted, rather than only the lesser of basis or fair market value. Beginning in 2016, the limit on deductible contributions of inventory increases from 10% to 15% of the business’s AGI per year.

S corporation recognition period for built-in gains tax. S corporation income generally is passed through to its shareholders, who pay tax on their pro-rata shares. If a C corporation elects to become an S corporation, the newly created S corporation is taxed at the highest corporate rate (currently 35%) on all gains that were built-in at the time of the election and recognized during the “recognition period.”

Generally, this period is 10 years. But, under the new law, it’s only five years, beginning on the first day of the first tax year for which the corporation was an S corporation.

Commuting benefits. The PATH Act makes permanent the provision that established equal limits for the amounts that can be excluded from an employee’s wages for income and payroll tax purposes for parking fringe benefits and van-pooling / mass transit benefits. The limits for both types of benefits are now $250 per month for 2015. Without the parity extension, the limit for van-pooling / mass transit would be only $130.

Tax Planning with More Certainty

Many of these tax breaks may seem familiar, because they’re continuations from previous years. Under the PATH Act, there are now significant tax planning opportunities for individuals and businesses. The permanent extensions of some valuable tax breaks will make it easier for taxpayers to plan ahead. Keep in mind that this article only touches on some of the new law’s provisions. There may be extensions and enhancements that can benefit you as an individual taxpayer and your company if you’re a business owner or executive.

 

Contact your Cornwell Jackson tax advisor to determine how you can make the most of this tax relief.