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.

Electric Vehicle Credit on the Decline

Article Highlights:

  • Tax Credit
  • Credit Phase-Out
  • Tesla
  • General Motors
  • Determining the Credit
  • Off-Road Vehicles and Golf Carts
  • Allocation Between Business and Personal Use
  • Credit Reduces Basis
  • Business Standard Mileage

Back in 2009 Congress created a tax credit for the purchase of electric vehicles as a stimulus for car companies to manufacture “green” vehicles and as an incentive for consumers to purchase electric vehicles. Although there is no specific date in the future when this credit will expire, there is a limit to the number of vehicles each manufacturer can sell that can qualify for the credit.

That limit is not a set number of vehicles, but rather a credit phaseout by manufacturer that is triggered when the manufacturer sells the 200,000th electric vehicle. Here is how the credit phase-out works:

Credit Phase-Out – The credit phases out beginning in the second calendar quarter following that in which a manufacturer sells its 200,000th plug-in electric drive motor vehicle for use in the U.S. The applicable percentage phase-out is:

  • 50% for the first two calendar quarters of the phaseout period,
  • 25% for the third and fourth calendar quarters of the phaseout period, and
  • 0% for each later calendar quarter.Example: Tesla, Inc., sold more than 200,000 vehicles eligible for the plug-in electric drive motor vehicle credit, reaching this sales level during the third quarter of 2018. Thus, a phase out of the tax credit available for purchasers of new Tesla plug-in electric vehicles was triggered beginning Jan. 1, 2019. This means the maximum credit available for the purchase of a Tesla, which was $7,500 before 2019, has begun to phase out and the maximum credits for 2019 are as follows for vehicles purchased:
  • Jan 1, 2019 through June 30, 2019: $3,750 (50% of $7,500).
  • July 1, 2019 through Dec 31, 2019: $1,875 (25% of $7,500).
  • After 2019, Tesla vehicles will no longer qualify for the credit.

During the fourth quarter of 2018, General Motors (GM) also reached a total of more than 200,000 sales of vehicles eligible for the plug-in electric drive motor vehicle credit and accordingly, the credit for all new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicles sold by GM have begun to phase out beginning April 1, 2019. Thus, the maximum credit for a GM plug-in electric drive motor vehicle is $3,750 for purchases in April through September of 2019, then dropping to $1,875 for purchases in October 2019 through March 2020, after which GM vehicles will not qualify for the credit.

If you are considering purchasing an electric vehicle, you may need to make that decision sooner than later since the credit for many popular models is beginning to phase out. Here are some things you should be aware of before making your decision to purchase an electric vehicle.

Not All Electric Vehicles Qualify for the Full Credit – The credit is not a flat $7,500; it is actually made up of two elements, a $2,500 per vehicle credit plus an additional $417 for each kilowatt hour of capacity in excess of 5 kilowatt hours, but not in excess of $5,000, resulting in an overall credit of up to $7,500.

The amount of credit available for any qualifying vehicle, listed by manufacturer is available on the IRS website. Although most salespeople will know the amount of credit that is available for the vehicle you are interested in purchasing, you sometimes run into an overzealous one that might mislead you a bit. So, it is good practice to double check for yourself and that is quite easy to do on the IRS Website.

The following requirements must be met to qualify for the credit.

  • You are the owner of the vehicle. If the vehicle is leased, only the lessor and not the lessee, is entitled to the credit. 
  • You placed the vehicle in service during your tax year.
  • The vehicle is manufactured primarily for use on public streets, roads, and highways.
  • The original use of the vehicle began with you.
  • You acquired the vehicle for use or to lease to others, and not for resale.
  • You use the vehicle primarily in the United States.

Credit for Multiple Vehicles – The credit is a per vehicle credit, thus if a taxpayer purchases multiple plug-in electric drive motor vehicles the taxpayer can claim the credit for each one.

Off-Road Vehicles & Golf Carts – Vehicles manufactured primarily for off-road use, such as for use on a golf course, do not qualify for the credit.

Allocation Between Business and Personal Use – When a taxpayer uses a qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle both personally and in the taxpayer’s business, the credit is divided (allocated) between personal use and business use and creates two separate credits, with the tax treatment of the two being quite different.

  • Personal Credit – The personal portion of the credit is non-refundable, meaning the personal portion of the credit can only offset a taxpayer’s tax liability and any excess not used in the year of purchase is lost. Thus, taxpayers need to be mindful of just how much benefit the credit provides and not necessarily expect to benefit from the full amount of credit for the vehicle.
  • Business Credit – The business use portion of the credit, on the other hand, becomes a business credit and any unused portion for the current year can be carried back to the prior tax year where it can offset tax liability in that year and result in a refund. If there is still unused credit it can carry forward for up to 20 years to offset future tax liabilities.

Credit Reduces Basis – For both the personal and business credit, the basis of the vehicle is reduced dollar for dollar by the amount of the credit. For a taxpayer claiming only the personal credit, this only becomes an issue when the vehicle is subsequently sold, since when determining the gain or loss on the sale the cost of the vehicle is reduced by the amount of any credit claimed. This is rarely an issue since vehicles are seldom subsequently sold for a profit. However, for a vehicle used for business, the credit reduces the depreciable basis of the vehicle. Also, no credit is allowed for any portion of a business vehicle expensed under Sec 179.

Business Standard Mileage – If a taxpayer uses a vehicle for business, they can choose between deducting actual expenses such as fuel, repairs, insurance, etc., or deducting a standard amount for each business mile driven. The standard mileage rate is determined periodically by the IRS using average costs of operating a vehicle. The IRS does not distinguish between fuel powered cars and electric cars, and both are allowed to use the same standard amount, even though the rate includes fuel costs. The business mileage rate for 2019 is 58 cents per mile, up from 54.5 cents per mile for 2018.

Call this office to determine how much benefit you will derive from the plug-in electric drive motor vehicle credit based upon your specific use of the vehicle, whether it is personal, business or a combination of the two.

Tax Benefits for Members of the Military

Article Highlights:

  • Service Member Residence or Domicile
  • Service Member Spouse’s Residence or Domicile
  • Non-Taxable Allowances
  • Combat Zone Exclusion
  • Home Mortgage Interest Deduction
  • Home Property Tax Deduction
  • Home Sale Gain Exclusion
  • Moving Deduction
  • Death Gratuity Payments
  • Child Credit
  • Earned Income Tax Credit
  • IRA Contributions
  • Reservist’s Travel Expenses
  • Qualified Reservist’s Pension Withdrawals
  • Retired Military Disability Compensation

Military members benefit from a variety of special tax benefits. These include certain non-taxable allowances, non-taxable combat pay, and a variety of other special tax provisions. Here is a rundown on the most prominent of the tax benefits.

Service Member Residence or Domicile – A frequent question by service members is “What is my state of residence for tax purposes?” since one’s duty station may change multiple times while serving. Luckily, the government passed a law to solve this issue. A service member continues to retain his or her home state of residence for tax purposes, even when required to move to another state under military orders. This also applies to other tax jurisdictions within a state, such as for city, county, and personal property taxes. Thus, a service member will continue to file tax returns for his or her home state and not the state where he or she is stationed.

Service Member Spouse’s Residence or Domicile – In order to simplify the tax-filing requirements of military couples, the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act of 2009 allowed military spouses to claim the same state of domicile as their service member for tax purposes, provided they had also established domicile there.

As an example, say Chris resides in California with his spouse, who is in the military, and Chris has earned income in California but had established domicile with his military spouse in Virginia. Chris would be subject to Virginia income tax laws instead of those of California, and the couple would need file only one state return – in this case, Virginia. They have no obligation to file a California return.

Unfortunately, spouses who had not established domicile in the same state as their service member spouse and who had earned income in the state where their spouse was stationed were still forced to file with both states (assuming both states have income tax).

New for Years Beginning in 2018 – Thanks to the Veterans Benefits and Transaction Act of 2018, an individual married to a military member now has more choices. Under the act, a spouse can elect to have the same state of domicile as their service member spouse, even if they didn’t previously have the same domicile. If the non-military spouse doesn’t make that election, they can continue to choose to file in their own domicile state.

Making these choices can significantly impact the amount of state tax the spouse might have to pay. As an example, a spouse of a service member stationed in a high-income-tax state can elect to use the state of residency of the service member whose residence state has no or low state income tax and not be subject to the state taxes where his or her spouse is stationed.

Careful – It is tempting for a service member or their military spouse to declare their state of domicile to be without any state income tax such as Texas, Nevada, Florida, etc. That can get them in hot water if they do so without any connections to the state.

Non-Taxable Allowances – Members of the military benefit from a number of non-taxable allowances including:

  • Living allowances – Basic allowance for housing (BAH), housing and cost-of-living allowances abroad whether paid by the U.S. Government or by a foreign government and overseas housing allowance.
  • Family allowances – certain educational expenses for dependents, emergencies, evacuation to a place of safety and separation.
  • Death allowances – Burial services, death gratuity payments to eligible survivors, and travel of dependents to burial sites.
  • Moving allowances – Including for relocation, move-in housing, moving household and personal items, moving trailers or mobile homes, storage, temporary lodging and temporary lodging expenses, and military base realignment and closure benefits.
  • Travel allowances – Including annual round trips for dependent students, leave between consecutive overseas tours, reassignment in a dependent-restricted status, transportation for military taxpayers and dependents during ship overhaul or inactivation, and per diem.
  • State benefit payments – Any bonus payment made by a state or political subdivision to any member or former member of the U.S. uniformed services, or to his or her dependent, only because of the member’s service in a “combat zone,” is generally treated as a “qualified military benefit” excludable from gross income.
  • Other payments – Defense counseling, disability (including payments received for injuries incurred as a direct result of a terrorist or military action), group term life insurance, professional education, ROTC educational and subsistence allowances, survivor and retirement protection plan premiums, uniform allowances, and uniforms furnished to enlisted personnel.
  • In-kind military benefits – Including legal assistance benefits, space-available travel on government aircraft, medical/dental care, and commissary/exchange discounts.

Combat Zone Exclusion – A member of the U.S. Armed Forces who serves in a combat zone can exclude certain pay from income. This pay includes active duty pay earned in any month served in a combat zone; imminent danger/hostile fire pay; a reenlistment bonus, if the voluntary extension or reenlistment occurs during a month served in a combat zone; accrued leave pay earned in any month served in a combat zone; awards for suggestions, inventions, or scientific achievements the service member is entitled to because of a submission made in a month served in a combat zone; and student loan repayments attributable to the period of service in a combat zone (provided a full year’s service is performed to earn the repayment). Any part of a month in a combat zone counts as an entire month. Periods when one is hospitalized as the result of wounds, disease, or injury in a combat zone are also excluded, provided the hospitalization begins within 2 years of combat zone activities. The hospitalization need not be in the combat zone. Generally, combat pay is not included in the individual’s pay reported on Form W-2.

Commissioned Officers – Commissioned officers may exclude their pay; however, the amount of their exclusion is limited to the highest rate of enlisted pay (plus imminent danger/hostile fire pay received).

Home Mortgage Interest Deduction – Military taxpayers who receive a non-taxable housing allowance and also own a home can deduct the mortgage interest on their home as an itemized deduction, even if they are paid with the nontaxable military housing allowance pay. However, the home mortgage interest is still subject to the general rules for deducting home mortgage interest, meaning that for years 2018 through 2025, only home acquisition debt interest is deductible. Home acquisition debt is debt used to acquire, build, or substantially improve a home. Equity debt interest is no longer deductible for years 2018 through 2025.

Home Property Tax Deduction – Even though they receive a non-taxable housing allowance, a military taxpayer can still deduct their home’s property taxes as an itemized deduction. However, the tax reform limits real property tax and state/local income or sales tax deductions to $10,000 annually for years 2018 through 2025.

Home Sale Gain Exclusion – Most taxpayers can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 if filing married joint) of home gain if the home was owned and used as their main home for 2 of the 5 years preceding its sale. However, a military taxpayer may choose to suspend the 5-year test period for ownership and use during any period when the taxpayer (or spouse) serves on qualified official extended duty as a member of the Armed Forces. This means that the 2-year use test may be met even if, because of military service, the taxpayer did not actually live in his or her home for at least the required 2 years during the 5-year period ending on the date of sale.

For this exception to the usual test period, a taxpayer is on qualified official extended duty when at a duty station that is at least 50 miles from his or her main home, or while residing under orders in government housing for more than 90 days or for an indefinite period.

The suspension period cannot last more than 10 years and can be revoked by the taxpayer at any time. The 5-year period cannot be suspended for more than one property at a time.

Example – Sarge bought and moved into a home in 2011 that he lived in as his main home for 2½ years. For the next 6 years, he did not live in the home because he was on qualified official extended duty with the Army. He sold the home for a gain in 2019. To meet the use test, Sarge chooses to suspend the 5-year test period for the 6 years he was on qualifying official extended duty – he disregards those 6 years. Sarge’s 5-year test period consists of the 5 years before he went on qualifying official extended duty. He meets the ownership and use tests because he owned and lived in the home for 2½ years during this test period.

Moving Deduction – The tax reform suspended the moving deduction for all moves except for certain members of the Armed Forces, for years 2018 through 2025. Military taxpayers who are still allowed a moving deduction are those who are required to move because of a permanent change of station. However, the deduction is limited to the actual cost less any non-taxable moving allowance provided.

A permanent change of station includes a move from home to one’s first post of duty when appointed, reappointed, reinstated, called to active duty, enlisted or inducted; a move from one permanent post of duty to another permanent post of duty at a different duty station, even if the service member separates from the Armed Forces immediately or shortly after the move; and a move from one’s last post of duty to home or to a nearer point in the U.S. in connection with retirement, discharge, resignation, separation under honorable conditions, transfer, relief from active duty, temporary disability retirement, or transfer to a fleet reserve, if the move occurs generally within 1 year or the termination of active duty.

Death Gratuity Payments –Military death gratuity payments and amounts received under the service members’ group life insurance program are not taxable to eligible survivors. In addition, these amounts may be rolled over to a Roth IRA or Coverdell education savings account without regard to the limits that otherwise apply to other taxpayers.

Child Credit – Excluded combat pay is treated as earned income for purposes of determining the refundable portion of the child credit.

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – A taxpayer may elect to treat combat pay that is otherwise excluded from gross income as earned income for purposes of the EITC. Making this election for EITC purposes may or may not be advantageous. If the taxpayer has earned income below the maximum amount of earned income on which the credit is calculated, including the combat pay will increase the credit amount. On the other hand, if the taxpayer’s earned income is already in the phase-out range, electing to include combat pay as earned income will decrease the amount of credit that can be claimed.

IRA Contributions – For 2019, individuals can contribute up the $6,000 ($7,000 if age 50 or over) to their IRA accounts, subject to phase-out limits for certain higher-income individuals. However, any contribution is limited to the individual’s earned income for the year. For service members, their combat pay, even though it is not taxable, is treated as earned income for purposes of an IRA contribution.

Reservist’s Travel Expenses – Armed Forces reservists who travel more than 100 miles away from home and stay overnight in connection with service as a member of a reserve component can deduct travel expenses as an adjustment to gross income. Thus, this deduction can be taken even by taxpayers using the standard deduction. However, the expenses themselves are subject to certain limitations. Transportation, meals (subject to a 50% limit) and lodging qualify, but the deduction is limited to the amount the federal government pays its employees for travel expenses, i.e., the general federal government per diem rate for lodging, meals and incidental expenses applicable to the locale and the standard mileage rate for car expenses plus parking and ferry fees and tolls.

Qualified Reservists Pension Withdrawals – Qualified reservists are permitted penalty-free withdrawal from IRAs, 401(k)s and other arrangements if ordered or called to active duty.

A “qualified reservist distribution” is any distribution to an individual if the individual was, by reason of his being a member of a “reserve component”, ordered or called to active duty for a period in excess of 179 days, or an indefinite period and the distribution is made during the period beginning on the date of the order or call to active duty, and ending at the close of the active duty period.

Retired Military Disability Compensation – Disability compensation, as distinguished from retirement payments, are tax free and made by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some misinformation has circulated indicating that the disability is included in the retirement benefits paid by the Defense Finance and Accounting Services. That is not true since the disability payments are made by the Department of Veterans Affairs and those amounts are NOT included on a Form 1099-R issued by the Defense Finance and Accounting Services.

If you have questions related to military tax benefits, please give this office a call.