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Last minute year end moves in light of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

December 23, 2017 Posted by Tasha Helms
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Congress is enacting the biggest tax reform law in thirty years, one that will make fundamental changes in the way you, your family and your business calculate your federal income tax bill, and the amount of federal tax you will pay. Since most of the changes will go into effect next year, there’s still a narrow window of time before year-end to soften or avoid the impact of crackdowns and to best position yourself for the tax breaks that may be heading your way. Here’s a quick rundown of last-minute moves you should think about making.

Lower tax rates coming. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will reduce tax rates for many taxpayers, effective for the 2018 tax year. Additionally, many businesses, including those operated as passthroughs, such as partnerships, may see their tax bills cut.

The general plan of action to take advantage of lower tax rates next year is to defer income into next year. Some possibilities follow:

. . . If you are about to convert a regular IRA to a Roth IRA, postpone your move until next year. That way you’ll defer income from the conversion until next year and have it taxed at lower rates.
. . . Earlier this year, you may have already converted a regular IRA to a Roth IRA but now you question the wisdom of that move, as the tax on the conversion will be subject to a lower tax rate next year. You can unwind the conversion to the Roth IRA by doing a recharacterization-making a trustee-to-trustee transfer from the Roth to a regular IRA. This way, the original conversion to a Roth IRA will be cancelled out. But you must complete the recharacterization before year-end. Starting next year, you won’t be able to use a recharacterization to unwind a regular-IRA-to-Roth-IRA conversion.
. . . If you run a business that renders services and operates on the cash basis, the income you earn isn’t taxed until your clients or patients pay. So if you hold off on billings until next year-or until so late in the year that no payment will likely be received this year-you will likely succeed in deferring income until next year.
. . . If your business is on the accrual basis, deferral of income till next year is difficult but not impossible. For example, you might, with due regard to business considerations, be able to postpone completion of a last-minute job until 2018, or defer deliveries of merchandise until next year (if doing so won’t upset your customers). Taking one or more of these steps would postpone your right to payment, and the income from the job or the merchandise, until next year. Keep in mind that the rules in this area are complex and may require a tax professional’s input.
. . . The reduction or cancellation of debt generally results in taxable income to the debtor. So if you are planning to make a deal with creditors involving debt reduction, consider postponing action until January to defer any debt cancellation income into 2018.

Disappearing or reduced deductions, larger standard deduction. Beginning next year, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspends or reduces many popular tax deductions in exchange for a larger standard deduction. Here’s what you can do about this right now:

• Individuals (as opposed to businesses) will only be able to claim an itemized deduction of up to $10,000 ($5,000 for a married taxpayer filing a separate return) for the total of (1) state and local property taxes; and (2) state and local income taxes. To avoid this limitation, pay the last installment of estimated state and local taxes for 2017 no later than Dec. 31, 2017, rather than on the 2018 due date. But don’t prepay in 2017 a state income tax bill that will be imposed next year – Congress says such a prepayment won’t be deductible in 2017. However, Congress only forbade prepayments for state income taxes, not property taxes, so a prepayment on or before Dec. 31, 2017, of a 2018 property tax installment is apparently OK.
• The itemized deduction for charitable contributions won’t be chopped. But because most other itemized deductions will be eliminated in exchange for a larger standard deduction (e.g., $24,000 for joint filers), charitable contributions after 2017 may not yield a tax benefit for many because they won’t be able to itemize deductions. If you think you will fall in this category, consider accelerating some charitable giving into 2017.
• The new law temporarily boosts itemized deductions for medical expenses. For 2017 and 2018 these expenses can be claimed as itemized deductions to the extent they exceed a floor equal to 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Before the new law, the floor was 10% of AGI, except for 2017 it was 7.5% of AGI for age-65-or-older taxpayers. But keep in mind that next year many individuals will have to claim the standard deduction because, for post-2017 years, many itemized deductions will be eliminated and the standard deduction will be increased. If you won’t be able to itemize deductions after this year, but will be able to do so this year, consider accelerating “discretionary” medical expenses into this year. For example, before the end of the year, get new glasses or contacts, or see if you can squeeze in expensive dental work such as an implant.

Other year-end strategies. Here are some other last minute moves that can save tax dollars in view of the new tax law:

• The new law substantially increases the alternative minimum tax (AMT) exemption amount, beginning next year. There may be steps you can take now to take advantage of that increase. For example, the exercise of an incentive stock option (ISO) can result in AMT complications. So, if you hold any ISOs, it may be wise to postpone exercising them until next year. And, for various deductions, e.g., depreciation and the investment interest expense deduction, the deduction will be curtailed if you are subject to the AMT. If the higher 2018 AMT exemption means you won’t be subject to the 2018 AMT, it may be worthwhile, via tax elections or postponed transactions, to push such deductions into 2018.
• Like-kind exchanges are a popular way to avoid current tax on the appreciation of an asset, but after Dec. 31, 2017, such swaps will be possible only if they involve real estate that isn’t held primarily for sale. So if you are considering a like-kind swap of other types of property, do so before year-end. The new law says the old, far more liberal like-kind exchange rules will continue apply to exchanges of personal property if you either dispose of the relinquished property or acquire the replacement property on or before Dec. 31, 2017.
• For decades, businesses have been able to deduct 50% of the cost of entertainment directly related to or associated with the active conduct of a business. For example, if you take a client to a nightclub after a business meeting, you can deduct 50% of the cost if strict substantiation requirements are met. But under the new law, for amounts paid or incurred after Dec. 31, 2017, there’s no deduction for such expenses. So if you’ve been thinking of entertaining clients and business associates, do so before year-end.
• The new law suspends the deduction for moving expenses after 2017 (except for certain members of the Armed Forces), and also suspends the tax-free reimbursement of employment-related moving expenses. So if you’re in the midst of a job-related move, try to incur your deductible moving expenses before year-end, or if the move is connected with a new job and you’re getting reimbursed by your new employer, press for a reimbursement to be made to you before year-end.
• Under current law, various employee business expenses, e.g., employee home office expenses, are deductible as itemized deductions if those expenses plus certain other expenses exceed 2% of adjusted gross income. The new law suspends the deduction for employee business expenses paid after 2017. So, we should determine whether paying additional employee business expenses in 2017, that you would otherwise pay in 2018, would provide you with an additional 2017 tax benefit. Also, now would be a good time to talk to your employer about changing your compensation arrangement-for example, your employer reimbursing you for the types of employee business expenses that you have been paying yourself up to now, and lowering your salary by an amount that approximates those expenses. In most cases, such reimbursements would not be subject to tax.

Please keep in mind that I’ve described only some of the year-end moves that should be considered in light of the new tax law. If you would like more details about any aspect of how the new law may affect you, please do not hesitate to call.

Tasha Helms, CPA
(910) 454-9747
Tasha@tashahelmscpa.com

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Charitable donations of appreciated stock

December 4, 2017 Posted by Tasha Helms
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If you are planning to make a relatively substantial contribution to a charity, college, etc., you should consider donating appreciated stock from your investment portfolio instead of cash. Your tax benefits from the donation can be increased and the organization will be just as happy to receive the stock.

This tax planning tool is derived from the general rule that the deduction for a donation of property to charity is equal to the fair market value of the donated property. Where the donated property is “gain” property, the donor does not have to recognize the gain on the donated property. These rules allow for the “doubling up,” so to speak, of tax benefits: a charitable deduction, plus avoiding tax on the appreciation in value of the donated property.

Example: Tim and Tina are twins, each of whom attended Yalvard University. Each plans to donate $10,000 to the school. Each also owns $10,000 worth of stock in ABC, Inc. which he or she bought for just $2,000 several years ago.

Tim sells his stock and donates the $10,000 cash. He gets a $10,000 charitable deduction, but must report his $8,000 capital gain on the stock.

Tina donates the stock directly to the school. She gets the same $10,000 charitable deduction and avoids any tax on the capital gain. The school is just as happy to receive the stock, which it can immediately sell for its $10,000 value in any case.

Caution: While this plan works for Tina in the above example, it will not work if the stock has not been held for more than a year. It would be treated as “ordinary income property” for these purposes and the charitable deduction would be limited to the stock’s $2,000 cost.

If the property is other ordinary income property, e.g., inventory, similar limitations apply. Limitations may also apply to donations of long-term capital gain property that is tangible (not stock), and personal (not realty).

Finally, depending on the amounts involved and the rest of your tax picture for the year, taking advantage of these tax benefits may trigger alternative minimum tax concerns.

If you’d like to discuss this method of charitable giving more fully, including the limitations and potential problem areas, please give me a call.

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Protect Yourself from IRS-Related Scams

May 28, 2015 Posted by Tasha Helms
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Since October 2013, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has received reports of roughly 290,000 calls from IRS impersonators and has become aware of nearly 3,000 victims who have collectively paid over $14 million as a result of a phone scam in which individuals make unsolicited calls to taxpayers fraudulently claiming to be IRS officials and demanding that they send cash via prepaid debit cards.

To protect yourself from becoming a victim of an IRS-related phone scam, keep in mind that the IRS will never:
• Call to demand immediate payment, nor will the IRS call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill;
• Demand that you pay taxes without giving you an opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe;
• Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card;
• Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone;
• Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:
• If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe taxes, ask for a call back number and an employee badge number, then call the IRS at 1800-829-1040. IRS employees can help you with a payment issue.
• If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484 or at www.tigta.gov.
• If you’ve been targeted by this scam, also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use its “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam? to the comments of the complaint.

Remember, too, that the IRS does not use email, text messages, or any other social media to discuss your personal tax issue involving bills or refunds. If you get a ‘phishing’ email, the IRS offers this advice:
• Don’t reply to the message;
• Don’t give out your personal or financial information;
• Forward the email “as is” to phishing@irs.gov, then delete the email; and
• Don’t open any attachments or click on any links–they may have malicious code that will infect your computer.

For more information on IRS-related tax scams, go to www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box.

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What to do if You Get a Notice from the IRS

July 9, 2014 Posted by Tasha Helms
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Reposted from www.irs.gov

IRS Summertime Tax Tip 2014-01, July 2, 2014

Each year the IRS mails millions of notices. Here’s what you should do if you receive a notice from the IRS:
1.Don’t ignore it. You can respond to most IRS notices quickly and easily. And it’s important that you reply promptly.

2.IRS notices usually deal with a specific issue about your tax return or tax account. For example, it may say the IRS has corrected an error on your tax return. Or it may ask you for more information.

3.Read it carefully and follow the instructions about what you need to do.

4.If it says that the IRS corrected your tax return, review the information in the notice and compare it to your tax return.

If you agree, you don’t need to reply unless a payment is due.

If you don’t agree, it’s important that you respond to the IRS. Write a letter that explains why you don’t agree. Make sure to include information and any documents you want the IRS to consider. Include the bottom tear-off portion of the notice with your letter. Mail your reply to the IRS at the address shown in the lower left part of the notice. Allow at least 30 days for a response from the IRS.

5.You can handle most notices without calling or visiting the IRS. If you do have questions, call the phone number in the upper right corner of the notice. Make sure you have a copy of your tax return and the notice with you when you call.

6.Keep copies of any notices you get from the IRS.

7.Don’t fall for phone and phishing email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS first contacts people about unpaid taxes by mail – not by phone. The IRS does not contact taxpayers by email, text or social media about their tax return or tax account.

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False internet rumors about “real estate transaction tax” worry taxpayers

August 11, 2012 Posted by Tasha Helms
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This article is taken from the Journal of Accountancy.

False internet rumors about “real estate transaction tax” worry taxpayers

By Jack Hagel and Alistair M. Nevis J.D. | July 30′ 2012

The National Association of Realtors has some tax advice for users of the internet: Don’t believe everything you read.

There has been a recent flare-up of chain emails purporting that, come Jan. 1, all real estate transactions will be subject to a 3.8% federal sales tax. The problem: That’s not true.

“This is grossly inaccurate,” said Stephanie Singer, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based Realtors association. “It’s not a sales tax on all properties.” 

The basis for the rumors is the new 3.8% Medicare tax on unearned income, which will take effect next year (Sec. 1411). That provision provides the rumors with a kernel of truth: A very small number of taxpayers will pay a surtax on gain from the sale of a principal residence. The new tax will only apply to single taxpayers with a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) in excess of $200,000 and married taxpayers with a MAGI in excess of $250,000 if filing a joint return, or $125,000 if filing a separate return. Those taxpayers will pay the tax on gain from sale of a principal residence, but only on the amount of gain that exceeds the thresholds in Sec. 121 ($250,000 for single taxpayers; $500,000 for joint returns).  

False rumors about a wider-reaching real-estate tax began to find their way to inboxes in 2010, when Congress passed sweeping health care reform legislation (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, P.L. 111-148, and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, P.L. 111-152)—the same legislation opponents have dubbed  “Obamacare”—which was the genesis of the Medicare tax.

Since June, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legislation, there has been another spike in email-rumor activity, said Singer, who noted that the Realtor association does not have a position on the legislation.

As a result of the rumors, tax practitioners have been getting questions from concerned clients. The first thing for practitioners to convey to clients is that the “real estate sales tax”—at least, the version described in some emails—is largely a hoax. Practitioners should then be prepared to explain the facts:

The new tax would only apply to single taxpayers with a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) in excess of $200,000 and married taxpayers with a MAGI in excess of $250,000 if filing a joint return, or $125,000 if filing a separate return.
The tax is equal to 3.8% of the lesser of the taxpayers’ “net investment income” or the amount by which their MAGI exceeds the threshold amount.
Under Sec. 1411(c)(1)(iii), net gain attributable to the disposition of property (other than property held in an active trade or business) is subject to this tax. That means taxable gain on the sale of a personal residence in excess of the Sec. 121 exclusion amount would be included. Sec. 121 provides that taxpayers may exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for joint returns) from the gain on the sale or exchange of a principal residence provided they meet certain ownership and use requirements.
Only taxpayers with MAGI over $200,000 (or $250,000 if married filing jointly) who sell their principal residence and realize more than $250,000 in gain ($500,000 if married filing jointly) will be subject to the 3.8% tax and only on the amount of gain they realize over the Sec. 121 threshold (and on their other net investment income).

Example: A married couple with MAGI of $325,000 purchased a home in California many years ago for $350,000 and sold it this year for $900,000, realizing a gain of $550,000. After excluding $500,000 gain under Sec. 121, they are left with $50,000 investment income (assume they have no other investment income). Since their AGI is $75,000 over the tax’s threshold amount for married taxpayers filing jointly, the lesser amount of $50,000 would be subject to taxation. At 3.8% they would owe $1,900.

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