School’s Out – Who Is Going to Take Care of the Kids?

Article Highlights:

  • Child Age Limits
  • Employment-Related Expense
  • Married Taxpayer Earnings Limits
  • Disabled or Full-Time-Student Spouse
  • Expense Limits

Summer has just arrived, and there is a tax break that working parents should know about. Many working parents must arrange for care of their children under 13 years of age (or any age if disabled) during the school vacation period. A popular solution — with a tax benefit — is a day camp program. The cost of day camp can count as an expense toward the child and dependent care credit. But be careful; expenses for overnight camps do not qualify. Also, not eligible are expenses paid for summer school and tutoring programs.

For an expense to qualify for the credit, it must be an “employment-related” expense; i.e., it must enable you and your spouse, if married, to work, and it must be for the care of your child, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister or stepsibling (or a descendant of any of these) who is under 13, lives in your home for more than half the year and does not provide more than half of his or her own support for the year. Married couples must file jointly, and both spouses must work (or one spouse must be a full-time student or disabled) to claim the credit.

The qualifying expenses are limited to the income you or your spouse, if married, earn from work, using the figure for whoever earns less. However, under certain conditions, when one spouse has no actual earned income and that spouse is a full-time student or disabled, that spouse is considered to have a monthly income of $250 (if the couple has one qualifying child) or $500 (two or more qualifying children). This means the income limitation is essentially removed for a spouse who is a student or disabled.

The qualifying expenses can’t exceed $3,000 per year if you have one qualifying child, while the limit is $6,000 per year for two or more qualifying persons. This limit does not need to be divided equally. For example, if you paid and incurred $2,500 of qualified expenses for the care of one child and $3,500 for the care of another child, you can use the total, $6,000, to figure the credit. The credit is computed as a percentage of your qualifying expenses; in most cases, 20%. (If your joint adjusted gross income [AGI] is $43,000 or less, the percentage will be higher, but it will not exceed 35%.)

Example: Al and Janice both work, each with earned income in excess of $40,000 per year. Janice has a part-time job, and her work hours coincide with the school hours of their 11-year-old daughter, Susan. However, during the summer vacation period, they place Susan in a day camp program that costs $4,000. Since the expense limitation for one child is $3,000, their child credit would be $600 (20% of $3,000).

The credit reduces a taxpayer’s tax bill dollar for dollar. Thus, in the above example, Al and Janice pay $600 less in taxes by virtue of the credit. However, the credit can only offset income tax and alternative minimum tax liability, and any excess is not refundable. The credit cannot be used to reduce self-employment tax or the taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act.

If the qualifying child turned 13 during the year, the care expenses paid for the child for the part of the year he or she was under age 13 will qualify.

If you have questions about how the childcare credit applies to your particular tax situation, please give this office a call.

Big Tax Changes for Divorce Decrees after 2018

Article Highlights:

  • Pre-2019 Alimony
  • Post-2018 Alimony
  • Definition of Alimony
  • Alimony and IRA Contributions
  • State Treatment of Alimony

Welcome to 2019 and a delayed provision of the tax reform, also known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). For divorce agreements entered into after December 31, 2018, or pre-existing agreements that are modified after that date to expressly provide that alimony received is not included in the recipient’s income, alimony will no longer be deductible by the payer and won’t be income to the recipient.

This is in stark contrast to the treatment of alimony payments under decrees entered into and finalized before the end of 2018, for which alimony will continue to be deductible by the payer and income to the recipient.

Having the alimony treated one way for one segment of the population and the exact opposite for another group of individuals seems unfair and may ultimately make its way into the court system. But in the meantime, parties to a divorce action need to be aware of the change and compensate for it in their divorce negotiations, for a decree entered into after 2018.

This is not the first time Congress has tinkered with alimony. Way back in the mid-1980s, the definition of alimony was altered to prevent property settlements and child support from being deducted as alimony. Under the definition of alimony since then, payments:

(1) Must be in cash, paid to the spouse, the ex-spouse, or a third party on behalf of a spouse or ex-spouse, and the payments must be made after the divorce decree. If made under a separation agreement, the payment must be made after execution of that agreement.

(2) Must be required by a decree or instrument incident to divorce, a written separation agreement, or a support decree that does not designate payments as non-deductible by the payer or excludable by the payee. Voluntary payments to an ex-spouse do not count as alimony payments.

(3) Cannot be designated as child support. Child support is not alimony.

(4) Are valid alimony only if the taxpayers live apart after the decree. Spouses who share the same household can’t qualify for alimony deductions. This is true even if the spouses live separately within a dwelling unit.

(5) Must end on the death of the payee (recipient) spouse. If the divorce decree is silent, courts will generally consider state law, and where state law is vague, judges may make their own decision based on the facts and circumstances of the case.

(6) Cannot be contingent on the status of a child. That is, any amount that is discontinued when a child reaches 18, moves away, etc., is not alimony.

Taxable alimony payments under pre-2019 decrees and agreements are treated as earned income for IRA contribution purposes, allowing the spouse receiving the alimony to make IRA contributions based upon the alimony. The ability to make IRA contributions under pre-2019 decrees and agreements remains unchanged. However, for alimony received as a result of a post-2018 decree or agreement, the alimony can no longer be used as a basis for making an IRA contribution.

To summarize:

Pre-2019 Decrees – For decrees entered into before 2019 and unmodified after 2018:

  • Alimony continues to be deductible by the payer spouse/ex-spouse.
  • Alimony is includable in the income of the recipient spouse/ex-spouse.
  • The recipient spouse/ex-spouse can make IRA contributions based upon the alimony received.

Post-2018 Decrees– For decrees entered into after 2018 (and pre-2019 decrees that are modified and include the TCJA alimony rules): Alimony is not deductible by the payer-spouse/ex-spouse.

  • Alimony is not includable in the income of the recipient spouse/ex-spouse.
  • The recipient spouse/ex-spouse cannot make IRA contributions based upon the alimony received.

One additional complication is if state tax treatment is different than that at the federal level. Some states, such as California, have not conformed to the TCJA; as a result, the state treatment of alimony paid under both pre-2019 and post-2018 decrees in these states will continue to follow pre-2019 law, with alimony payments continuing to be deductible and alimony received being taxable.

If you have questions related to alimony or about how your state will tax alimony beginning in 2019, please give the office a call.

Three Common Family Tax Mistakes

Article Highlights

  • Family Member Transactions
  • Renting to a Relative
  • Below-Market Loans
  • Transferring Home Titles
  • Gifts
  • Basis
  • Life Estate

When it comes to transactions between family members, the tax laws are frequently overlooked, if not outright trampled upon. The following are three commonly encountered situations and the tax ramifications associated with each.

Renting to a Relative – When a taxpayer rents a home to a relative for long-term use as a principal residence, the rental’s tax treatment depends upon whether the property is rented at fair rental value (the rental value of comparable properties in the area) or at less than the fair rental value.

Rented at Fair Rental Value – If the home is rented to the relative at a fair rental value, it is treated as an ordinary rental reported on Schedule E, and losses are allowed, subject to the normal passive loss limitations.

Rented at Less Than Fair Rental Value – When a home is rented at less than the fair rental value, it is treated as being used personally by the owner; the expenses associated with the home are not deductible, and no depreciation is allowed. The result is that all of the rental income is fully taxable and reported as “other income” on the 1040. If the taxpayer were able to itemize their deductions, the property taxes on the home would be deductible, subject to the $10,000 cap on state and local taxes effective starting with 2018. The taxpayer might also be able to deduct the interest on the rental home by treating the home as their second home, up to the debt limits on a first and second home.

Possible Gift Tax Issue – There also could be a gift tax issue, depending if the difference between the fair rental value and the rent actually charged to the tenant-relative exceeds the annual gift tax exemption, which is $15,000 for 2018. If the home has more than one occupant, the amount of the difference would be prorated to each occupant, so unless there was a large difference ($15,000 per occupant, in 2018) between the fair rental value and actual rent, or other gifting was also involved, a gift tax return probably wouldn’t be needed in most cases.

Below-Market Loans – It is not uncommon to encounter situations where there are loans between family members, with no interest being charged or the interest rate being below market rates.

A below-market loan is generally a gift or demand loan where the interest rate is less than the applicable federal rate (AFR). The tax code defines the term “gift loan” as any below-market loan where the forgoing of interest is in the nature of a gift, while a “demand loan” is any loan that is payable in full at any time, at the lender’s demand. The AFR is established by the Treasury Department and posted monthly. As an example, the AFR rates for October 2018 were:

TermAFR (Annual) Oct. 2018
3 years or less2.55%
Over 3 years but not over 9 years2.83%
Over 9 years2.99%

Generally, for income tax purposes:

Borrower – Is treated as paying interest at the AFR rate in effect when the loan was made. The interest is deductible for tax purposes if it otherwise qualifies. However, if the loan amount is $100,000 or less, the amount of the forgone interest deduction cannot exceed the borrower’s net investment income for the year.

Lender – Is treated as gifting to the borrower the amount of the interest between the interest actually paid, if any, and the AFR rate. Both the interest actually paid and the forgone interest are treated as investment interest income.

Exception – The below-market loan rules do not apply to gift loans directly between individuals if the loan amount is $10,000 or less. This exception does not apply to any gift loan directly attributable to the purchase or carrying of income-producing property.

Parent Transferring a Home’s Title to a Child – When an individual passes away, the fair market value (FMV) of all their assets is tallied up. If the value exceeds the lifetime estate tax exemption ($11,180,000 in 2018; about half that amount in 2017), then an estate tax return must be filed, which is rarely the case, given the generous amount of the exclusion. Because the FMV is used in determining the estate’s value, that same FMV, rather than the decedent’s basis, is the basis assigned to the decedent’s property that is inherited by the beneficiaries. The basis is the value from which gain or loss is measured, and if the date-of-death value is higher than the decedent’s basis was, this is often referred to as a step-up in basis.

If an individual gifts an asset to another person, the recipient generally receives it at the donor’s basis (no step-up in basis).

So, it is generally better for tax purposes to inherit an asset than to receive it as a gift.

Example: A parent owns a home worth (FMV) $350,000 that was originally purchased for $75,000. If the parent gifts the home to the child and the child sells the home for $350,000, the child will have a taxable gain of $275,000 ($350,000 − $75,000). However, if the child inherits the home, the child’s basis is the FMV at the date of the parent’s death. So in this case, if the date-of-death FMV is $350,000 and if the home is sold for $350,000, there will be no taxable gain.

This brings us to the issue at hand. A frequently encountered problem is when an elderly parent signs the title of his or her home over to a child or other beneficiary and continues to reside in the home. Tax law specifies that an individual who transfers a title and retains the right to live in a home for their lifetime has established a de facto life estate. As such, when the individual dies, the home’s value is included in the decedent’s estate, and no gift tax return is applicable. As a result, the beneficiary’s basis would be the FMV at the date of the decedent’s death.

On the other hand, if the elderly parent does not continue to reside in the home after transferring the title, no life estate has been established, and as discussed earlier, the transfer becomes a gift, and the child’s (gift recipient’s) basis would be the parent’s basis in the home at the date of the gift. In addition, if the child were to sell the home, the home gain exclusion would not apply unless the child moves into the home and meets the two-out-of-five-years use and ownership tests.

Another frequently encountered situation is when the parent simply adds the child’s name to the title, while retaining a partial interest. If the home is subsequently sold, the parent, provided they met the two-out-of-five-years use and ownership rules, would be able to exclude $250,000 ($500,000 if the parent is married and filing a joint return) of his, her or their portion of the gain. A gift tax return would be required for the year the child’s name was included on the title, and the child’s basis would be the portion of the parent’s adjusted basis transferred to the child. As mentioned previously, the child would not be able to use the home gain exclusion unless the child occupied and owned the home for two of the five years preceding the sale.

These are only three examples of the tax complications that can occur in family transactions. I highly recommended that you contact this office before completing any family financial transaction. It is better to structure a transaction within the parameters of tax law in the first place than have to suffer unexpected consequences afterwards.

Surrogacy Fees and Taxes

Article Highlights:

  • Surrogate Births
  • Legal Arrangements
  • Taxability to Surrogate Mothers
  • Social Security Taxes
  • Business Deductions
  • Deductibility for the New Parents

Articles about the taxability and deductibility of surrogacy fees are rare because there are far fewer surrogacies than with conventional births. Surrogacy is a legal arrangement in which a surrogate mother, new parents and (often) a surrogacy agency enter into a binding contract. In the event of a breach of that contract, any party can be held to the terms of the agreement.

Tax Treatment for the Surrogate – The Internet contains a wide variety of opinions related to the taxability of the surrogacy fee to the surrogate mother. Some authors classify this fee as a gift; however, a U.S. Supreme Court decision (Commissioner vs. LoBue, Philip (1956, S Ct)) stated that, for tax purposes, gifts must be made out of detached or disinterested generosity. Any payment that parents make to a surrogate mother cannot reasonably be considered detached or disinterested, so surrogate fees are not gifts.

On the other hand, many surrogacy agencies advise their clients that surrogacy payments are for pain and suffering and thus are exempt under Sec 104 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). This section is about “compensation for injury or sickness”; however, the term “pain and suffering” does not appear anywhere in that section. Surrogacy does not meet the definition of an excludable physical injury under IRC Sec 104 such as an injury associated with a car accident, bungled surgery or other accident. Thus surrogacy fees do not fall under the compensation exclusion for injury or sickness.

IRC Sec 61 states, “Except as otherwise provided, gross income means all income from whatever source derived.” There is no exception in the code for surrogacy fees, so such fees are considered taxable income for the surrogate mother. To complicate matters, the surrogate mother is providing a personal service and thus may be subject to the self-employment (Social Security and Medicare) taxes in addition to income tax if such a fee is received in the course of business.

To be subject to Social Security taxes, the surrogacy arrangement would have to rise to the level of a trade or business. The determination of whether that is the case is dependent on the facts and circumstances of the individual surrogacy. For instance, if a surrogate has entered into such an arrangement previously or intends to do so again, the fee will likely be considered self-employment income. However, if the surrogacy is a one-time activity, an argument could be made that this act is not a business—in which case the surrogacy fee would not be subject to Social Security taxes.

If the fee is considered self-employment income, it may be offset with benefits that are available to any self-employed taxpayer, including the ability to deduct health insurance above the line rather than as an itemized deduction and the ability to make deductible contributions to a self-employed retirement plan or IRA. Although there are not many deductible business expenses in such a situation, the legal or other costs associated with drafting and executing the surrogacy contract are deductible.

A self-employment surrogacy activity would fall into the category of a specified service business for the purposes of the new, self-employed and pass-through business deduction that will be available in 2018 through 2025. Thus, provided that the surrogate mother’s return has taxable income that does not exceed $157,500 (or $315,000 if she is married and files a joint return with her spouse), she would be eligible for the new IRC Sec 199A pass-through deduction, which is equal to 20% of the net self-employment income. However, this deduction phases out at taxable incomes between $157,500 and $207,500 (or $315,000 and $415,000 if filing jointly). The income from self-employment surrogacy can be used to determine the earned income tax credit if a surrogate mother is otherwise qualified.

Unfortunately, tax novices on the Internet are creating their own interpretations of the tax code, and many of them are attempting to justify their preferences instead of instead of describing the actual rules.

As a result, many – dare we say, most – surrogate mothers are not reporting their surrogacy income. The IRS is not catching up with them because neither the parents nor the agencies are issuing 1099-MISC forms to surrogate mothers. The parents are under no obligation to issue a 1099-MISC because, for them, the payment is not related to a business. The agency, on the other hand, is a business, so if the surrogacy fee passes through it, the agency is obligated to issue a 1099-MISC.

Tax Treatment for the Parents

Surrogate mothers’ expenses are not specifically addressed in the IRC or in other regulations. Under current tax law, the only place that a surrogate fee could be deducted is as a medical expense. However, consider the following:

  • Medical deductions are allowed only for the medical care of the taxpayer and his or her spouse and dependents (IRC Sec 213(a)).
  • These expenses must be for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or for the purpose of affecting any structure or function of the body (IRC Sec 213(a)(1)(A)).

A surrogate mother is, by definition, neither the taxpayer nor the taxpayer’s spouse, and she is typically not a dependent, either. An unborn child is also not a dependent (Cassman v. United States, 31 Fed. Cl. 121 (1994)). Thus, medical expenses paid to a surrogate mother and her unborn child do not qualify for a medical deduction.

This fee also cannot be construed as a treatment for a female taxpayer’s inability to conceive.

Thus, the new parents cannot deduct the surrogacy fee or any agency fees, legal fees, and medical expenses for the surrogate mother and unborn fetus.

Please call this office if you have questions.

Disabled Taxpayer Tax Benefits

Article Highlights:

  • Increased Standard Deduction
  • Tax-Exempt Income
  • Impairment-Related Work Expenses
  • Financially Disabled
  • Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Child or Dependent Care Credit
  • Special Medical Deductions
  • Qualified Medicaid Waiver Payments
  • ABLE Accounts

Taxpayers with disabilities may qualify for a number of tax credits and other tax benefits. Parents of children with disabilities may also qualify. Listed below are several tax credits and other benefits that are available if you or someone else listed on your federal tax return is disabled.

Increased Standard Deduction – Tax reform substantially increased the standard deduction for 2018 to $12,000 for single filers, $18,000 for those filing as head of household and $24,000 for married filing joint returns. Tax reform also retained the standard deduction add-on for taxpayers who are legally blind. Thus, if a taxpayer is filing jointly with a blind spouse, they are able to add an additional $1,300 to their standard deduction; if both spouses are blind, the add-on doubles to $2,600. For other filing statuses, the additional amount is $1,600. While being age 65 or older isn’t a disability, it should be noted that the “elderly” add-on of $1,300 or $1,600, depending on filing status, has also been retained. These add-ons apply only to the taxpayer and spouse, and not to any dependents.

  1. Exclusions from Gross Income – Certain disability-related payments, Veterans Administration disability benefits, and Supplemental Security Income are excluded from gross income (i.e., they are not taxable). Amounts received for Social Security disability are treated the same as regular Social Security benefits, which means that up to 85% of the benefits could be taxable, depending on the amount of the recipient’s (and spouse’s, if filing jointly) other income.• Impairment-Related Work Expenses – Individuals who have a physical or mental disability may deduct impairment-related expenses paid to allow them to work.

    Employee – Although the tax reform eliminated most miscellaneous itemized deductions, it retained the deduction for employees who have a physical or mental disability limiting their employment. As a result, they can still deduct, as an itemized deduction, the expenses that are necessary for them to work.

    Self-employed – For those who are self-employed, impairment-related expenses are deductible on Schedule C or F.

    Impairment-related work expenses are ordinary and necessary business expenses for attendant care services at the individual’s place of work as well as other expenses in at the place of work that are necessary for the individual to be able to work. An example is when a blind taxpayer pays someone to read work-related documents to the taxpayer.

  2. Financially Disabled – Under normal circumstances, one must file a claim for a tax refund within 3 years of the unextended due date of the tax return. For example, for a 2015 tax return, the due date was April 15, 2016, which is the date when the 3-year clock started running. Thus, the IRS will not issue refunds for an amended 2015 or a late-filed original 2015 return submitted to the IRS after April 15, 2019. However, if a taxpayer is “financially disabled,” the time periods for claiming a refund are suspended for the period during which the individual is financially disabled.An individual is financially disabled if they are unable to manage their financial affairs because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.

    For a joint income tax return, only one spouse has to be financially disabled for the time period to be suspended. However, financial disability does not apply during any period when the individual’s spouse or any other person is authorized to act on the individual’s behalf in financial matters.

  3. Earned Income Tax Credit – The EITC is available to disabled taxpayers and to the parents of a child with a disability. To be eligible for the credit, the taxpayer must receive earned income, which generally is wages or self-employment income. However, if an individual retired on disability, taxable benefits that were received under their employer’s disability retirement plan are considered earned income until the individual reaches a minimum retirement age. If the disability benefits being received are nontaxable, as would be the case if the disabled individual paid the premiums for the disability insurance policy from which the benefits come, then the benefits are not considered earned income. The EITC is a tax credit that not only reduces a taxpayer’s tax liability but may also result in a refund. Many working individuals with a disability who have no qualifying children but are older than 24 and younger than 65 may qualify for the EITC. Additionally, if the taxpayer’s child is disabled, the qualifying child’s age limitation for the EITC is waived. The EITC has no effect on certain public benefits. Any refund that is received because of the EITC will not be considered income when determining whether a taxpayer is eligible for benefit programs such as Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid.
  4. Child or Dependent Care Credit – Taxpayers who pay someone to come to their home and care for their dependent or disabled spouse may be entitled to claim this credit. For children, this credit is usually limited to the care expenses paid only until age 13, but there is no age limit if the child is unable to care for himself or herself.Special Medical Deductions When Claiming Itemized Deductions – In addition to conventional medical deductions, the tax code provides special medical deductions related to disabled taxpayers and dependents. They include:

    Impairment-Related Expenses – Amounts paid for special equipment installed in the home, or for improvements, may be included as medical expenses deductible as part of itemized deductions, if their main purpose is medical care for the taxpayer, the spouse, or a dependent. The cost of permanent improvements that increase the value of the property may only be partly included as a medical expense.

    Learning Disability – Tuition paid to a special school for a child who has severe learning disabilities caused by mental or physical impairments, including nervous system disorders, can be included as medical expenses eligible for the medical deduction when itemizing deductions. A doctor must recommend that the child attend the school. Fees for the child’s tutoring recommended by a doctor and given by a teacher who is specially trained and qualified to work with children who have severe learning disabilities might also be included.

    Drug Addiction – Amounts paid by a taxpayer to maintain a dependent in a therapeutic center for drug addicts, including the cost of the dependent’s meals and lodging, are included as medical expenses for itemized deduction purposes.

  5. Exclusion of Qualified Medicaid Waiver Payments – Payments made to care providers caring for related individuals in the provider’s home are excluded from the care provider’s income. Qualified foster care payments are amounts paid under the foster care program of a state (or political subdivision of a state or a qualified foster care placement agency). For more information, please call.
  6. ABLE Accounts – Qualified ABLE programs provide the means for individuals and families to contribute and save for the purpose of supporting individuals with disabilities in maintaining their health, independence, and quality of life.Federal law authorizes the states to establish and operate an ABLE program. Under these ABLE programs, an ABLE account may be set up for any eligible state resident – someone who became severely disabled before turning age 26 – who would generally be the only person who could take distributions from the account. ABLE accounts are very similar in function to Sec. 529 plans. The main purpose of ABLE accounts is to shelter assets from the means testing required by government benefit programs. Individuals can contribute to ABLE accounts, subject to per-account gift tax limitations (maximum $15,000 for 2018). The 2017 tax reform added a provision allowing working individuals who are beneficiaries of ABLE accounts to contribute limited additional amounts to their ABLE accounts, beginning in 2018. Distributions to the disabled individual are tax-free if the funds are used for qualified expenses of the disabled individual. These accounts are established at the state level.

For more information on these benefits available to disabled taxpayers or dependents, please give this office a call.

Kiddie Tax No Longer Based on Parents’ Tax Rate

Article Highlights:

  • Parents Attempting to Shift Income to Children
  • Kiddie Tax
  • Tax Reform Changes
  • Tax on Child’s Unearned Income
  • Tax on Child’s Earned Income

Some years back, it was not uncommon for parents to put their investments in their dependent children’s names to take advantage of their children’s lower tax rates. Although the Uniform Gift to Minors Act legally made a child the owner of money put into his or her name, this didn’t stop parents from routinely putting their child’s name and social security number on the accounts so that the tax would be determined at the child’s lower marginal rate.

The IRS had no easy way to combat parents taking advantage of their children’s lower tax rates, so Congress came up with a unique way of taxing children’s investment income (unearned income) such as interest, dividends and capital gains. When this law was originally passed over 30 years ago, it only applied to children under age 14, but Congress expanded it over time to include children with unearned income under the age of 19 and full-time students under the age of 24 who aren’t self-supporting.

The way it worked prior to the 2017 tax reform, the first $1,050 of a child’s income was tax-free, the next $1,050 was taxed at just 10% and any unearned income above $2,100 was taxed at his or her parents’ higher tax rate. A child’s earned income (generally income from wages) was taxed at the single rate, and the child could use the regular standard deduction for single individuals ($6,350 in 2017) to reduce his or her taxable earned income. The computation got more complicated when the child’s siblings also had unearned income.

With tax reform, for years 2018 through 2025, the first $2,100 of the child’s unearned income is being taxed as before, with the first $1,050 being tax-free and the next $1,050 being taxed at 10%. However, instead of the balance being taxed at the parents’ tax rate, the balance is taxed at the income tax rates for estates and trusts, which for 2018 hits 37% when the balance of the unearned income reaches $12,500. The income tax rates for trusts and estates are illustrated below.

2018 Federal Tax Rate Schedule – Estates & Trusts
If the taxable income is:The tax is:
OverBut not overOf the amount over
$0
$2,550
10%
$0
2,550
9,150
$255.00 + 24%
2,550
9,150
12,500
1,839.00 + 35%
9,150
12,500
3,011.50 + 37%
12,500

On the bright side, tax reform increased the standard deduction for singles to $12,000 (2018), meaning that a child can make up to $12,000 of earned income tax-free. The standard deduction is inflation adjusted for future years.

Uncoupling the child’s return from the parents’ return also solved another problem. If a child had taxable unearned income, they previously would have to wait for the parents’ return to be prepared to know what the parents’ top tax rate was before the child’s return could be prepared. It was not uncommon for young adults, in a rush for their tax refund, to jump the gun and file their own return while ignoring the kiddie tax rules, only to have to amend their returns. That is no longer the case.

If you have questions, please give this office a call.

Do You Need to Renew Your ITIN?

Article Highlights:

  • Over 2 Million ITINs Require Renewal
  • Failure to Renew Can Affect Tax Filings and Refunds in 2019
  • W-7
  • Family Renewal Option
  • Three Ways to Renew
  • Avoiding Common Mistakes

The IRS has announced that more than 2 million Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) are set to expire at the end of 2018. An ITIN is a nine-digit number issued by the IRS to individuals who are required for U.S. federal tax purposes to have a U.S. taxpayer identification number but who do not have and are not eligible to get a Social Security number (SSN).

Failure to renew an ITIN in a timely manner can delay one’s ability to file a tax return, and with 2.7 million expected ITIN renewals, acting now to renew ITIN numbers will help taxpayers avoid delays that could affect their tax filing and refunds in 2019.

Under the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, ITINs that have not been used on a federal tax return at least once in the last three consecutive years, as well as ITINs with specified middle digits (see below), will expire on Dec. 31, 2018. These affected taxpayers who expect to file a tax return in 2019 must submit a renewal application as soon as possible.

Who Needs to Renew Their ITIN?

  • Taxpayers whose ITIN is expiring or whose ITIN includes the middle digits listed below and who need to file a tax return in 2019 must submit a Form W-7 renewal application. ITINs with the middle digits 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 81 or 82 (for example: 9NN-73-NNNN) need to be renewed even if the taxpayer has used it in the last three years. Other ITIN holders do not need to take any action. The IRS has begun sending the CP-48 Notice, “You Must Renew Your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to File Your U.S. Tax Return,” in early summer to affected taxpayers. The notice explains the steps to take to renew the ITIN if it will be included on a U.S. tax return filed in 2019. Taxpayers who receive this notice after taking action to renew their ITIN do not need to take further action, unless another family member is affected.
  • ITINs with middle digits of 70, 71, 72, 78, 79 or 80 have previously expired. Taxpayers with these ITINs who haven’t previously gone through the renewal process can still renew at any time.
  • Spouses or dependents residing inside the United States should renew their ITINs. However, spouses and dependents residing outside the United States do not need to renew their ITINs unless they anticipate being claimed for a tax benefit (for example, after they move to the United States) or unless they file their own tax return. That’s because the deduction for personal exemptions has been suspended for tax years 2018 through 2025 by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Consequently, spouses or dependents outside the United States who would have been claimed for this personal exemption benefit and no other benefit do not need to renew their ITINs this year.

Family Renewal Option – Taxpayers with an ITIN that has middle digits 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 81 or 82, as well as all previously expired ITINs, have the option to renew ITINs for their entire family at the same time. Those who have received a renewal letter from the IRS can choose to renew their family’s ITINs together, even if family members have an ITIN with middle digits that have not been identified as expiring. Family members include the tax filer, the filer’s spouse and any dependents claimed on the tax return.

How to Renew an ITIN – To renew an ITIN, a taxpayer must complete a Form W-7 and submit all required documentation. Taxpayers submitting a Form W-7 to renew their ITIN are not required to attach a federal tax return. However, taxpayers must still note a reason for needing an ITIN on the Form W-7. See the Form W-7 instructions for detailed information.

There are three ways to submit the W-7 application package. Taxpayers can:

  • Mail the Form W-7, along with original identification documents or copies certified by the agency that issued them, to the IRS address listed on Form W-7’s instructions. The IRS will review the identification documents and return them within 60 days.
  • Work with Certified Acceptance Agents (CAAs) authorized by the IRS to help taxpayers apply for an ITIN. CAAs can authenticate all identification documents for primary and secondary taxpayers, verify that an ITIN application is correct before submitting it to the IRS for processing and authenticate the passports and birth certificates of dependents. This saves taxpayers from mailing original documents to the IRS.
  • In advance, call and make an appointment at a designated IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center to have each applicant’s identity authenticated in person, instead of mailing original identification documents to the IRS. Applicants should bring a completed Form W-7 along with all required identification documents. See the TAC ITIN authentication page on the IRS website for more details.

Avoid Common Errors and Delays Next Year – Federal tax returns that are submitted in 2019 with an expired ITIN will be processed. However, certain tax credits and any exemptions will be disallowed. Taxpayers will receive a notice in the mail advising them of the change to their tax return and of their need to renew their ITIN. Once the ITIN is renewed, applicable credits and exemptions will be restored, and any refunds will be issued.

Additionally, several common errors can slow down and hold up some ITIN renewal applications. These mistakes generally center on missing information or insufficient supporting documentation, such as for name changes. The IRS urges any applicant to check over their form carefully before sending it to the IRS.

As a reminder, the IRS no longer accepts passports that do not have a date of entry into the U.S. as a standalone identification document for dependents from a country other than Canada or Mexico as well as for dependents of U.S. military personnel overseas. The dependent’s passport must have a date-of-entry stamp; otherwise, at least one the following documents to prove U.S. residency is required:

  • U.S. medical records for dependents under age 6.
  • U.S. school records for dependents aged 6 to 17.
  • U.S. school records (if a student), rental statements, bank statements or utility bills listing the applicant’s name and U.S. address, if age 18 or over.

If you have questions related to a need for an ITIN or the renewal process, please give this office a call.

Credit for Family and Medical Leave Benefits

Article Highlights:

  • Written Leave Policy
  • Variable Credit
  • Qualifying Employee
  • Qualifying Leave
  • Time Limits
  • General Business Credit

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that was passed last year included a new tax credit for employers that allows them to claim a credit based on wages paid to qualifying employees while they are on family and medical leave.

To qualify for the credit, an employer must have a written policy that provides at least two weeks of paid family and medical leave annually to all qualifying employees who work full time, which can be prorated for part-time. The wages paid during the leave period cannot be less than 50 percent of what the employee is normally paid.

The credit is variable. It begins at 12.5% and increases by 0.25%, up to a maximum of 25%, for each percentage point that the rate of payment exceeds 50% of the employee’s normal pay.

Example: ABC, Inc. has qualifying written policy to pay an employee 70% of their normal wage while on family or medical leave. The rate of 70% is 20 percentage points above the 50% credit threshold. Thus the credit is increased by 5% (.25 x 20), which when added to the base credit of 12.5% results in a credit percentage of 17.5% (12.5% plus 5%). Assuming the total leave wages paid for the year were $15,000, the credit would be $2,625 (.175 x $15,000).

A qualifying employee for this credit is any employee who has been employed for one year or more and who had compensation that did not exceed a specified amount for the preceding year. For 2018, the employee must not have earned more than $72,000 in 2017. Thus leave benefits for higher-income taxpayers will not qualify for this credit.

For the purposes of this credit, “family and medical leave” is leave for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Birth of an employee’s child and to care for the newborn.
  • Placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care.
  • Care for the employee’s spouse, child or parent who has a serious health condition.
  • A serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of his or her position.
  • Any qualifying event due to an employee’s spouse, child or parent being on covered active duty – or being called to duty – in the Armed Forces.
  • Care for a service member who is the employee’s spouse, child, parent or next of kin.

The credit only applies to qualified leave wages paid to a qualifying employee for up to 12 weeks per taxable year, and the employer must reduce its deduction for wages or salaries paid or incurred by the amount determined as a credit. Any wages taken into account in determining any other general business credit may not be used toward this credit.

CAUTION – CREDIT TIME LIMITED
The credit is generally only effective for wages paid in taxable years of the employer beginning after December 31, 2017. It is not available for wages paid in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2019

The credit is part of the general business credit, where business incentive credits are combined into one “general business credit” for purposes of determining each credit’s allowance limitation for the tax year. A general business credit is generally limited to the taxpayer’s tax liability for the year (excluding self-employment tax), and any excess over the tax liability is carried back one year and forward 20 years. “Carrying back” means, in most instances, amending the return of the year to which the credit is carried; if no return was filed for that year, then the carryback credit would be claimed on an original late-filed return for that year.

If you have any questions relating to this credit, please give this office a call.

Summer Employment For Your Child

Article Highlights

  • Higher Standard Deduction
  • IRA Options
  • Self-Employed Parent
  • Employing Your Child
  • Tax Benefits

Summer is just around the corner, and your children may be looking for summer employment. With the passage of the most recent tax reform, the standard deduction for single individuals jumped from $6,350 in 2017 to $12,000 in 2018, meaning your child can now make up to $12,000 from working without paying any income tax on their earnings.

In addition, they can contribute the lesser of $5,500 or their earned income to an IRA. If they contribute to a traditional IRA, they could earn up to $17,500 tax free, since the combination of the standard deduction and the maximum allowed contribution to an IRA for 2018 is $5,500. However, looking forward to the future, a Roth IRA with its tax-free accumulation would be a better choice.

Even if your child is reluctant to give up any of their hard-earned money from their summer or regular employment, if you have the financial resources, you could gift them the funds to make the IRA contribution, giving them a great start and hopefully a continuing incentive to save for retirement.

With vacation time just around the corner and employees heading out for their summer vacations, if you are self-employed, you might consider hiring your children to help out in your business. Financially, it makes more sense to keep the family employed rather than hiring strangers, provided, of course, that the family member is suitable for the job.

Rather than helping to support your children with your after-tax dollars, you can instead hire them in your business and pay them with tax-deductible dollars. Of course, the employment must be legitimate and the pay commensurate with the hours and the job worked. A reasonable salary paid to a child reduces the self-employment income and tax of the parents (business owners) by shifting income to the child.

Example: You are in the 25% tax bracket and own a self-employed business. You hire your child (who has no investment income) and pay the child $15,000 for the year. You reduce your income by $15,000, which saves you $3,750 of income tax (25% of $15,000), and your child has a taxable income of $3,000 ($15,000 less the $12,000 standard deduction) on which the tax is only $300 (10% of $3,000).

If the business is unincorporated and the wages are paid to a child under age 18, the pay will not be subject to FICA (Social Security and Medicare taxes) since employment for FICA tax purposes doesn’t include services performed by a child under the age of 18 while employed by a parent. Thus, the child will not be required to pay the employee’s share of the FICA taxes, and the business won’t have to pay its half either.

Example: Using the same information as the previous example, and assuming your business profits are $130,000, by paying your child $15,000, you not only reduce your self-employment income for income tax purposes, but you also reduce your self-employment tax (HI portion) by $402 (2.9% of $15,000 times the SE factor of 92.35%). But if your net profits for the year were less than the maximum SE income ($128,400 for 2018) that is subject to Social Security tax, then the savings would include the 12.4% Social Security portion in addition to the 2.9% HI portion.

A similar but more liberal exemption applies for FUTA, which exempts from federal unemployment tax the earnings paid to a child under age 21 while employed by his or her parent. The FICA and FUTA exemptions also apply if a child is employed by a partnership consisting solely of his or her parents. However, the exemptions do not apply to businesses that are incorporated or a partnership that includes non-parent partners. Even so, there’s no extra cost to your business if you’re paying a child for work that you would pay someone else to do anyway.

If you have questions related to your child’s employment or hiring your child in your business, please give this office a call.

Big Changes to the Kiddie Tax

Article Highlight:

  • Prior Law
  • New Law
  • Earned Income
  • Unearned Income
  • Fiduciary Rates
  • Strategies

Years ago, to prevent parents from transferring their investment accounts into their children’s name to avoid taxes, Congress created what is referred to as the kiddie tax. This counteracted the strategy of taking income from the parents’ higher tax bracket and shifting it to their children’s lower tax bracket.

The kiddie tax plugged that tax loophole by taxing the child’s unearned income (income not from working) at the parent’s top marginal rate.

That has all changed under the new tax reform. Beginning in 2018, children’s tax rates are no longer based upon their parents’ top marginal rates. Congress streamlined the kiddie tax by taxing a child’s unearned income by the capital gain and ordinary income rates that apply to trusts and estates. Thus, the child’s tax is unaffected by the parent’s tax situation or the unearned income of any siblings, while the earned income is taxed using the single tax rates.

Although this will greatly simplify the preparation of a child’s return, there will be losers and winners. One of the big winners will be a child who is employed. Since earned income is taxed at single rates, a working child will benefit from the new higher standard deduction allowing them to make up to $12,000, instead of the previous $6,350 of earned income without any tax.

On the other hand, for those with substantial unearned (investment) income, that income will no longer be subject to the parent’s top tax bracket but instead will be taxed at the rates for estates and trusts, which for 2018 hit 37% at a taxable income of $12,500.

The losers will be children with substantial investment income, which will be taxed at the trust rates, especially children whose parents are in a low tax bracket. Under the old law, a child’s unearned income was taxed at the parents’ top tax bracket, which now may be lower than the fiduciary tax rates.

The kiddie tax applies to children under the age of 18, a child age 18 at the end of the year with earned income less than one half the cost of their support, and full-time students between the ages of 18 and 24, also with earned income less than one half the cost of their support.

Parents with children might consider some of the following investment strategies for their children to avoid the kiddie tax issues:

  • U.S savings bonds – Invest in U.S. savings bonds. Not the best return on investment, but interest can be deferred until the bonds are cashed.
  • Tax-deferred annuities – Invest in tax-deferred annuities. The income can be deferred until the annuity is surrendered.
  • Municipal bonds – Invest in municipal bonds. They generally produce tax-free interest income (which may be taxable to the state).
  • Growth stocks – Invest in stocks that focus more on capital appreciation than current income.
  • Unimproved real estate – Invest in unimproved real estate, which provides appreciation without current income.
  • Family employment – If the family has a business, that family business could employ the child. The child’s earned income is not subject to kiddie tax and will generate a deduction for the family business (assuming the wages are reasonable for the work actually performed). The child’s earned income can offset the standard deduction for a dependent, and the excess income will be taxed at the child’s rate (not the parent’s). In addition, the child would also qualify for an IRA, which provides an additional income shelter.
  • Individual IRA Account – If a child has investment income and earned income, the earned income can be used as a basis for depositing investment funds into an IRA account. Funding an IRA at an early age is perhaps one of the most underused family wealth-building strategies. Generally, a Roth IRA would be preferable for a child with little or no tax liability.
  • Sec. 529 Qualified Tuition Plans – If parents, grandparents, or others want to transfer money to a child, depositing the funds into a Sec. 529 plan will allow the earnings to accumulate tax-deferred, and if used for qualified college expenses, the earnings are withdrawn tax-free.

If you have questions or would like to schedule an appointment to discuss a child’s tax situation and options, please give this office a call.