Gift Tax Treatment of Tuition Plans

Article Highlights:

  • Purpose of Qualified Tuition Plans
  • Gift Tax Implications
  • Special Five-Year Election
  • Change of Beneficiary
  • Eligible Expenses
  • Direct Payment of Tuition

Qualified tuition plans (QTPs) provide a means for family members and others to save for the future educational needs of children. Investment earnings within a QTP account are tax deferred and not taxable when withdrawn if used to pay qualified tuition and certain other expenses.

Each individual’s contribution to a QTP (also sometimes referred to as a “Section 529 plan”) on behalf of a designated beneficiary is treated as a gift subject to the normal gift tax rules. Thus, no gift tax return is required for any contributor if the contribution is equal to or less than the amount of the gift tax annual exclusion for the year of the gift, which for 2019 is $15,000.

Special Election – When a donor’s total contribution to a QTP for the year exceeds the annual exclusion amount, the donor may make a special election treating the contributed funds as if they had been contributed ratably over a five-year period starting with the year of the contribution.

Example: Grandpa Lee contributes $75,000 to granddaughter Whitney’s QTP in 2019. By using the election, grandpa’s contribution is treated as if the contribution was made equally over a five-year period – that is, as if he’d contributed $15,000 in each of 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023. If grandpa makes any more QTP contributions during those years, those contributions would then exceed the annul gift limit and require a gift tax return to be filed. The same would be true if grandpa makes other gifts to Whitney.

To make the five-year election grandpa must file a Form 709, Federal Gift Tax Return, for the calendar year in which the contribution is made.

The election is available only with respect to contributions not in excess of five times the annual exclusion amount for the calendar year of the contribution. Any excess is treated as a taxable gift in the calendar year of the contribution. However, that does not necessarily mean any gift tax will be owed since there is also a unified gift and estate tax lifetime exclusion (currently in excess of $11 million) that will shield most taxpayers like grandpa from any gift tax.

If grandpa were married, he and grandma could make an election under the gift-splitting rules for the QTP contribution to be made one-half by each of them, thus allowing them to double up on the annual and the special 5-year amounts.

If in any year after the first year of the five-year period, the amount of the gift tax annual exclusion is increased for inflation, the donor may make an additional contribution in any one or more of the four remaining years up to the difference between the exclusion amount as increased and the original exclusion amount for the year or years in which the original contribution was made.

Example: In 2017 when the annual gift tax exemption was $14,000, grandpa made a $70,000 contribution to his granddaughter’s QTP and made the 5-year election. For 2018 the annual gift tax exemption was increased to $15,000. Thus, grandpa can make an additional $1,000 contribution for each of the remaining 4 years of the 5-year election period.

Change of Beneficiary – A change in the designated beneficiary, or a rollover to the account of a new beneficiary, is treated as a taxable gift if the new beneficiary is assigned to a generation below the generation of the old beneficiary. Such a transfer isn’t a taxable gift if the new beneficiary is a member of the family of the old beneficiary, and is assigned to the same generation, as the old beneficiary.

If the new beneficiary is assigned to a lower generation than the old beneficiary, the transfer is a taxable gift from the old beneficiary to the new beneficiary, regardless of whether the new beneficiary is a member of the family of the old beneficiary.

In addition, the transfer would be subject to the generation skipping transfer tax (GST) if the new beneficiary is assigned to a generation which is two or more levels lower than the generation assignment of the old beneficiary. The five-year averaging election may be applied to a transfer.

Example: Suppose Whitney had not used the funds from the QTP or has finished her higher education and had some funds left over in the plan, and grandpa (or the trustee of the account if grandpa is not the trustee) decides to change the account beneficiary to his great-granddaughter Annabelle. Since Annabelle is in a generation lower than Whitney, the change of beneficiary represents a gift from Whitney to Annabelle. However, the five-year averaging election may be applied to the gift.

Eligible Expenses – Distributions from QTPs, including earnings on the amounts contributed to a QTP, aren’t taxed for income tax purposes if they are used to pay qualified higher-education expenses of the account beneficiary. In addition to tuition, eligible expenses include the following:

  • Fees;
  • Books;
  • Supplies;
  • Equipment;
  • The purchase of computers or peripheral equipment, computer software, or internet access and related services that will be used primarily by the beneficiary while the beneficiary is enrolled at an eligible educational institution;
  • Room and board if the beneficiary is attending a qualified school at least half time; and
  • A special needs student’s expenses that are necessary to enable the student to enroll or attend an eligible educational institution.

When distributions exceed eligible expenses, the beneficiary of the QTP is the one who would include the nonqualified distributions in his or her income. The calculation of the taxable amount of the distribution can be complicated if the beneficiary received a tax-free scholarship. In some cases a 10% penalty also applies on the taxable distribution that is included in income.

While QTPs are generally intended to be used for higher education expenses, for years after 2017, up to $10,000 distributed from a QTP for tuition expense (but not for related other expenses) paid so the beneficiary can attend an elementary or secondary school (kindergarten through grade 12) is considered a qualified education expense that would be tax-free. However, some states have not recognized this provision, and so such distributions would be at least partially taxable for state purposes.

Direct Payment of Tuition – Some potential contributors to a QTP for family members may wish to pay for the tuition when it is actually incurred rather than saving for it in advance. If that individual makes the tuition payment directly to a qualified school, college or university the gift tax does not apply.

If you have questions related to QTPs in general or changing beneficiaries, please give this office a call.

What is an IRS Penalty Abatement and Am I Eligible for One?

There are different types of IRS penalties that can be assessed against you. The most common penalties include those for failing to file a tax return, filing your return late, or accuracy-related penalties if you didn’t correctly state items on your tax return. But were you aware that sometimes, the IRS can issue penalty abatements if you believe you’ve been penalized unfairly?

Civil penalties for underpayment, late filing, or erroneous inaccuracy may be eligible for abatement, but criminal penalties for tax protest and willful violations of the law are not. There is also the first-time penalty administrative waiver program (FTA) that applies in certain cases. Here’s what you need to know about successfully fighting IRS penalties and determining eligibility for the waiver program.

What a Penalty Abatement Does NOT Include

Regardless of whether you are trying to secure an ordinary penalty abatement or relief under the FTA program, penalty abatement procedures are only for the penalties themselves. They do not include interest on unpaid taxes, the amount of the taxes themselves, or any related processing fees such as installment agreement setup charges.

If your abatement request is successful, only the interest charged on the penalty would be abated, opposed to interest on unpaid taxes.

Proving Hardship for Failure to File or Failure to Pay Penalties

The failure to file penalty kicks in if you file your tax return late, or not at all, and is based on 5% of your unpaid taxes every month (up to 25% of your total balance due). The best way to avoid this penalty is to file for a six-month extension prior to the tax filing deadline if you don’t think you’ll get your return filed on time. The extension won’t waive interest, taxes, or penalties for failure to pay or deposit, but it will eliminate the failure to file penalty, which is much higher.

The IRS will consider penalty abatement requests provided that you have reasonable cause for not being able to file or pay your taxes in a timely manner. Valid hardships, such as hospitalization, natural disasters, or fleeing domestic violence, are factored into reasonable cause to get certain civil penalties waived.

Failure to pay penalties result from having an unpaid balance due, with 0.5% being charged every month. Simply lacking funds to pay your taxes doesn’t necessarily equate to hardship to file your tax return on time or pay your tax bill. However, if you have a continuous lack of funds due to disability or chronic illness, a death in the family, or similar hardships, you may be eligible for relief from the failure to pay penalty.

First-Time Penalty Administrative Waiver (FTA Program)

Under the FTA program, you can have failure to file, failure to pay, and failure to deposit penalties waived if you were never assessed penalties in the past three tax years or had them relieved because of reasonable cause. Estimated tax penalty (deposit penalty), as is common with self-employed taxpayers, is the only allowable penalty to bear.

You must also be current on all of your current tax returns or extensions and paid any taxes due (or arrangements like payment plans). If your charges include failure to pay penalties, it’s a good idea to wait until you’ve paid the entire balance before requesting FTA waivers since you don’t need to prove hardship and can get more waived.

FTA waivers are the best option if you meet the above requirements as this request takes less time to process than ordinary penalty abatement, because you don’t need to establish reasonable cause or hardship.

Why Tax Basis Is So Important

Article Highlights:

  • Definition of Tax Basis
  • Cost Basis
  • Adjusted Basis
  • Gift Basis
  • Inherited Basis
  • Record Keeping

For tax purposes, the term “basis” refers to the original monetary value that is used to measure a gain or loss. For instance, if you purchase shares of a stock for $1,000, your basis in that stock is $1,000; if you then sell those shares for $3,000, the gain is calculated based on the difference between the sales price and the basis: $3,000 – $1,000 = $2,000. This is a simplified example, of course—under actual circumstances, purchase and sale costs are added to the basis of the stock—but it gives an introduction to the concept of tax basis. The basis of an asset is very important because it is used to calculate deductions for depreciation, casualties, and depletion, as well as gains or losses on the disposition of that asset.

The basis is not always equal to the original purchase cost. It is determined in a different way for purchases, gifts, and inheritances. In addition, the basis is not a fixed value, as it can increase as a result of improvements or decrease as a result of business depreciation or casualty losses. This article explores how the basis is determined in various circumstances.

Cost Basis – The cost basis (or unadjusted basis) is the amount originally paid for an item before any improvements and before any business depreciation, expensing, or adjustments as a result of a casualty loss.

Adjusted Basis – The adjusted basis starts with the original cost basis (or gift or inherited basis), then incorporates the following adjustments:

  • increases for any improvements (not including repairs),
  • reductions for any claimed business depreciation or expensing deductions, and
  • reductions for any claimed personal or business casualty-loss deductions.

Example: You purchased a home for $250,000, which is the cost basis. You added a room for $50,000 and a solar electric system for $25,000, then replaced the old windows with energy-efficient double-paned windows at a cost of $36,000. The adjusted basis is thus $250,000 + $50,000 + $25,000 + $36,000 = $361,000. Your payments for repairs and repainting, however, are maintenance expenses; they are not tax deductible and do not add to the basis.

Example: As the owner of a welding company, you purchased a portable trailer-mounted welder and generator for $6,000. After owning it for 3 years, you then decide to sell it and buy a larger one. During this period, you used it in your business and deducted $3,376 in related deprecation on your tax returns. Thus, the adjusted basis of the welder is $6,000 – $3,376 = $2,624.

Keeping records regarding improvements is extremely important, but this task is sometimes overlooked, especially for home improvements. Generally, you need to keep the records of all improvements for 3 years (and perhaps longer, depending on your state’s rules) after you have filed the return on which you report the disposition of the asset.

Gift Basis – If you receive a gift, you assume the doner’s adjusted basis for that asset; in effect, the doner transfers any taxable gain from the sale of the asset to you.

Example: Your mother gives you stock shares that have a market value of $15,000 at the time of the gift. However, your mother originally purchased the shares for $5,000. You assume your mother’s basis of $5,000; if you then immediately sell the shares, your taxable gain is $15,000 – $5,000 = $10,000.

There is one significant catch: If the fair market value (FMV) of the gift is less than the doner’s adjusted basis, and if you then sell it for a loss, your basis for determining the loss is the gift’s FMV on the date of the gift.

Example: Again, say that your mother purchased stock shares for $5,000. However, this time, the shares were worth $4,000 when she gave them to you, and you subsequently sold them for $3,000. In this case, your tax-deductible loss is only $1,000 (the sales price of $3,000 minus the $4,000 FMV on the date of the gift), not $2,000 ($3,000 minus your mother’s $5,000 basis).

Inherited Basis – Generally, a beneficiary who inherits an asset uses its FMV on the date when the owner died as the tax basis. This is because the tax on the decedent’s estate is based on the FMV of the decedent’s assets at the time of death. Normally, inherited assets receive a step up (increased) in basis. However, if an asset’s FMV is less than the decedent’s basis, then the beneficiary’s basis is stepped down (reduced).

Example: You inherit your uncle’s home after he dies. Your uncle’s adjusted basis in the home was $50,000, but he purchased the home 25 years ago, and its FMV is now $400,000. Your basis in the home is equal to its FMV: $400,000.

Example: You inherit your uncle’s car after he dies. Your uncle’s adjusted basis in the car was $50,000, but he purchased the car 5 years ago, and its FMV is now $20,000. Your basis in the car is equal to its FMV: $20,000.

An inherited asset’s FMV is very important because it is used when determining the gain or loss after the sale of that asset. If an estate’s executor is unable to provide FMV information, the beneficiary should obtain the necessary appraisals. Generally, if you sell an inherited item in an arm’s-length transaction within a short time, the sales price can be used as the FMV. A simple example of not at arm’s length is the sale of a home from parents to children. The parents might wish to sell the property to their children at a price below market value, but such a transaction might later be classified by a court as a gift rather than a bona fide sale, which could have tax and other legal consequences.

For vehicles, online valuation tools such as Kelly Blue Book can be used to determine FMV. The value of publicly traded stocks can similarly be determined using Website tools. On the other hand, for real estate and businesses, valuations generally require the use of certified appraisal services.

The foregoing is only a general overview of how basis applies to taxes. If you have any questions, please call this office for help.

Forget Something on Your 2018 Return?

Article Highlights:

  • Tax Reform Problems
  • Corrected 1099s and K-1s
  • Overlooked Income and Deductions
  • Marital Issues
  • Mitigating Penalties
  • The Need for Prompt Amendments

If you forgot to include necessary information on your 2018 return, you are not alone. In addition, you may have received a revised 1099 or K-1 since filing your return. The IRS has struggled to deal with the enormity of the changes in the recent tax reform; despite significant pressure to update its regulations, forms, and publications, the IRS could not finish all of its tax-reform updates in a timely manner. Some IRS publications still have not been updated for 2018, and others even include errors. The new tax regulations have been dribbling out, but the IRS still has not provided sufficient guidance for some issues.

As a result of this uncertainty, you may receive a corrected 1099 or K-1. You may also need to update your return because, like most taxpayers, you did not fully comprehend all of the provisions of the new tax law thus failing to include an item of income, deduction, or credit. You also may have simply overlooked an item of income or missed a significant deduction. These mistakes happen, which is why the IRS and state tax agencies allow for amended tax returns.

A failure to report an item of income will generate an IRS inquiry; this typically happens a year or so after the filing of the original return—which is after the interest and penalties have built up. On the other hand, if you forgot a deduction and are owed a refund, you should not let that go by the wayside.

In some cases, marital problems lead taxpayers to file incorrectly—for instance, by incorrectly claiming children or not allocating income correctly. These and myriad other issues can be corrected by amending the returns. As warning, please note that, if you are married and filed a joint return, you cannot amend to file separate returns. However, a married couple’s separate returns can be amended into a single joint return.

Regardless of the issue, the solution is to file an amended return as soon as possible. This will minimize the penalties and interest in the case of omitted income and will also prevent you from getting those annoying letters from the IRS. Amended returns can also be used to claim an overlooked credit, to correct your filing status or number of dependents, to report an omitted investment transaction, to submit a delayed K-1, or to include any other information that should have been on the original return.

If an overlooked item results in a tax increase, filing the amended return quickly will mitigate the penalties and interest. Procrastination will lead to further complications when the IRS eventually determines that information is missing, so it is always best to take care of the issue right away.

Generally, to claim a refund on an amended return, you must file the amendment within three years of the date when you filed the original return, or within two years of the date when you paid the tax—whichever is later.

If any of these issues apply to you, please give this office a call so that we can prepare the necessary amended returns.

So, You’ve Made a Mistake on Your Tax Return. What Happens Now?

Generally speaking, tax return mistakes are a lot more common than you probably realize. Taxes are naturally complicated, and the paperwork required to file them properly is often convoluted. This is especially true if you’re filing your taxes yourself — and all of this is in reference to a fairly normal year as far as the IRS is concerned.

The 2018 tax year, however, certainly does not qualify as a “normal year.”

With the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, even seasoned financial professionals are having a hard time digesting all of the changes that they and their clients are now dealing with. All of this is to say that if you’ve just discovered that you’ve made a BIG mistake on your tax return this year, the first thing you should do is stop and take a deep breath. It happens. It’s understandable. There ARE steps that you can take to correct the situation quickly — you just have to keep a few key things in mind.

Fixing Tax Return Mistakes: Here’s What You Need to Do

All told, you have three years from the date that you originally filed your tax return (or two years from the date you paid the tax bill in question) to make any corrections necessary to fix your mistakes. If nothing about your return ultimately changes, you probably don’t have anything to worry about — in fact, there’s a good chance that the IRS will catch the mistake and fix it themselves. This is especially true in terms of math errors, or if you’ve left out an important document. The IRS will probably send you a letter letting you know what happened and what you need to do to correct it.

If fixing the mistake ultimately results in you owing more taxes, you should pay that difference as quickly as possible. Penalties and interest will keep accruing on that unpaid portion of your bill for as long as it takes for you to pay it, so it’s in your best interest to take care of this as soon as you can afford to do so.

If you’ve made a much larger mistake (like if you understated or overstated your income, for example), you’ll need to file what is called an amended tax return. This is essentially your “second chance” at getting things right, and the timetable above still applies. Understand, however, that ALL errors must be corrected in the amended return. This means that if you find three errors that will reduce your tax liability and two that actually increase it, you are legally required to correct all five. You can’t correct only the mistakes that benefit you.

An amended return can be used to correct a variety of issues, including but not limited to ones like:

  • Overstating or understating your income
  • Changing an incorrect filing status
  • Accounting for dependents
  • Taking care of discrepancies in terms of deductions or tax credits

If any of the above apply to the error you’ve just discovered, you can — and absolutely should — file an amended return.

A sudden increase in your tax liability notwithstanding, it’s again important to understand that even “major” errors on your income taxes aren’t really worth stressing out about. The IRS understands that sometimes mistakes happen, and they have a variety of processes in place designed to help make things right.

This does, however, underline how valuable it can be to partner with the right financial professional to do your taxes next year. You’ve got a career and a life to lead — you’re probably not going to be up to date on every small change that rolls out in the tax code. A financial professional will, as it is literally their job to do so.

If nothing else, this will help generate some much-needed peace-of-mind regarding the accuracy of your return. You won’t have to worry about whether or not the IRS is going to find some big mistake down the road because you’ve dramatically reduced the chances of those mistakes happening in the first place.

Court of Appeals Rules for Clergy

Article Highlights:

  • Internal Revenue Code Section 107
  • Court Ruling
  • Employee Status
  • Self-employed Status
  • Parsonage Allowance
  • Self-employment Tax
  • Exemption from Self-employment Tax

If you read our previous article related to a Wisconsin District Court ruling, you will recall that the judge in that case had ruled that Sec. 107(2) of the Internal Revenue Code was unconstitutional.

Section 107 of the Internal Revenue Code provides that a minister’s gross income doesn’t include the rental value of a home provided by the house of worship. If the home itself isn’t provided, then a rental allowance paid as part of compensation for ministerial services is excludable. This benefit is generally referred to as a parsonage allowance. Thus, a minister can exclude the fair rental value (FRV) of the parsonage from income under IRC Sec. 107(1), or the rental allowance under Sec. 107(2), for income tax purposes. The Sec. 107(2) rental allowance is excludable only to the extent that it is for expenses such as rent, mortgage payments, utilities, repairs, etc., used in providing the minister’s main home, and only up to the amount of the home’s FRV.

Good news for clergy members: a 3-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has unanimously overturned the lower court’s decision and ruled that Sec. 107 is constitutional; therefore, housing allowances continue to be excludable from income tax.

It is unknown whether those who brought the suit will ask the full 7th Circuit to review the case or appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court and, if so, whether the Supreme Court will take it up.

Here is an overview of how members of the clergy (from all faiths) are taxed on their income. When we refer to “church” in this article, please read that to include mosques, synagogues, temples, etc. Members of the clergy are taxed on not just their salary but on other fees and contributions that they receive in exchange for performing services such as marriages, baptisms, funerals, and masses. As a result, clerics will generally report their income in two ways:

As an Employee – As an employee, clerics will receive a W-2 from the church showing the amount of their income that is subject to tax, any amount paid as a nontaxable housing allowance (discussed later), and any withholding.

Any expenses incurred as a W-2 employee are included on Form 2106 (Employee Business Expenses) and if the cleric also receives a nontaxable parsonage allowance, the expenses must be divided between the taxable W-2 income and nontaxable parsonage allowance. Unfortunately, for years 2018 through 2025 the deduction for employee business expenses has been suspended by tax reform. The suspension affects all employee business expenses, not just those of clergy employees.

As a Self-Employed Individual – Income received other than as an employee of a church is reported as self-employment income. Typically, this would include all income that is not included in the W-2 from the church, including fees charged for services, such as weddings, funerals, and other gatherings. This income and any expenses associated with it are reported on Schedule C and are subject to the self-employment tax.

Parsonage Allowance – As was discussed previously, as the subject of the court ruling, a member of the clergy can qualify to have a rental allowance excluded from his or her taxable income if that allowance is provided as remuneration for services that are ordinarily the duties of a minister of the gospel. The following are the qualifications and details of the parsonage allowance:

  • It is only excludable to the extent that it is used for expenses related to the minister’s housing (e.g., for rent, mortgage payments, utilities, and repairs).
  • The rental allowance is not excludable to the extent that it exceeds reasonable compensation for the minister’s services.
  • The allowance only applies to the minister’s primary residence.
  • The allowance cannot exceed a home’s FRV, including furnishings and appurtenances such as garages, plus the cost of utilities.
  • In advance of the payment, the employing organization must designate the allowance by an official action. If a minister is employed by a local congregation, the designation must come from the local church, instead of from the church’s national organization.
  • The portion of the minister’s business expenses that is attributable to tax-free income is not deductible. This rule does not apply to home-mortgage interest or to taxes that are deductible in full if the minister itemizes deductions.
  • Retired clerics can exclude a home’s rental value or a rental allowance if the home is furnished as compensation for past services and authorized under a convention of a national church organization. However, this exclusion does not extend to the widow or widower of a retired cleric.

Although it is not subject to income tax, a parsonage allowance is subject to the self-employment tax unless the minister is exempt (as discussed below).

Self-Employment Tax – A minister who hasn’t taken a vow of poverty is subject to self-employment tax on income from services performed as a minister.

An ordained minister may be granted an exemption from the self-employment tax for ministerial services only. To qualify, the church employing the minister must qualify as a religious organization under Code Section 501(c)(3). The application for an exemption is filed with Form 4361 (Application for Exemption from Self-Employment Tax for Use by Ministers, Members of Religious Orders, and Christian Science Practitioners).

To claim an exemption from the self-employment tax, the minister must meet all of the following conditions and file Form 4361 to request exemption from the self-employment tax. The minister must:

  • Be conscientiously opposed to public insurance because of his or her individual religious considerations or because of the principles of his or her religious denomination (not because of general conscience).
  • File for noneconomic reasons.
  • Inform the church’s or order’s ordaining, commissioning, or licensing body that he or she is opposed to public insurance, if he or she is a minister or a member of a religious order (other than a vow-of-poverty member). This requirement doesn’t apply to Christian Science practitioners or readers.
  • Establish that the organization that ordained, commissioned, or licensed him or her (or his or her religious order) is a tax-exempt religious organization.
  • Establish that the organization is a church (or a convention or association of churches).
  • Not have previously filed Form 2031 (Revocation of Exemption from Self-Employment Tax for Use by Ministers, Members of Religious Orders, and Christian Science Practitioners) to elect for Social Security coverage.

Form 4361 must be filed on or before the return’s extended due date for the second tax year when the individual has net self-employment earnings of $400 or more (part of which is from services as a minister). A late application will be rejected.

The time for applying starts over when a minister who previously was not opposed to accepting public insurance (i.e., Social Security benefits) enters a new ministry (e.g., joins a new church and adopts beliefs that include opposition to public insurance). However, the IRS has said that there is no second chance to apply for exemption if a minister is ordained in a different church but does not change his or her beliefs regarding public insurance (i.e., the minister opposed the acceptance of public insurance in both faiths).

Careful consideration should be made before applying for an exemption from the self-employment tax, as once the decision is made, the election is irrevocable.

If you have questions related to any of these issues or how they may apply to your situation, please give this office a call.

Read This before Tossing Old Tax Records!

Article Highlights:

  • Reasons to Keep Records
  • Statute of Limitations
  • Maintaining Record of Asset Basis

If you are a neat-nick and your tax return for last year has been completed and filed, you are probably thinking about getting rid of the tax records related to that return. On the other hand, if you are afraid to dump old records, you are probably looking for a box to put them in so you can store them away. Well, you do have to keep them for a period of time but not forever.

Generally, tax records are retained for two reasons: (1) in case the IRS or a state agency decides to question the information on your tax returns or (2) to keep track of the tax basis of your capital assets, so that you can minimize your tax liability when you dispose of those assets.

With certain exceptions, the statute of limitations for assessing additional taxes is three years from the return’s due date or its filling date, whichever is later. However, the statute in many states is one year longer than that of federal law. In addition, the federal assessment period is extended to six years if more than 25% of a taxpayer’s gross income is omitted from a tax return. In addition, of course, the three-year period doesn’t begin elapsing until a return has been filed. There is no statute of limitations for the filing of false or fraudulent returns to evade tax payments.

If none of the above exceptions applies to you, then for federal purposes, you can probably discard most of your tax records that are more than three years old; you will want to add a year to that time period if you live in a state with a longer statute.

Examples – Sue filed her 2015 tax return before the due date of April 15, 2016. She will be able to safely dispose of most of her 2015 records after April 15, 2019. On the other hand, Don filed his 2015 return on June 2, 2016. He needs to keep his records until at least June 2, 2019. In both cases, the taxpayers should keep their records for a year or two longer if their states have statutes of limitations longer than three years. Note: If a due date falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, the actual due date is the next business day.

The problem with discarding all of the records for a particular year once the statute of limitations has expired is that many taxpayers combine their normal tax records with the records that substantiate the basis of their capital assets. The basis records need to be separated and should not be discarded until after the statute has expired for when a given asset was disposed of. Thus, it makes more sense to keep separate records for each asset. The following are examples of records that fall into the basis category:

  • Stock-acquisition data – If you own stock in a corporation, keep the purchase records until at least four years after the year when you sell the stock. This data is necessary for proving the amount of profit (or loss) from the sale. If your sales for a given year result in a net loss of more than $3,000, you may need to keep your purchase and sale records for even longer. This is because $3,000 is the maximum capital loss that can be deducted in any one year, so the excess loss must be carried over to the following year(s) until it is used up. If the IRS audits a return that includes a carryover loss, it will ask to see the records from the original purchase, even if it happened more than three years in the past. Thus, don’t dispose of such records until the statute of limitations has passed for the last year when you claimed a carryover loss.
  • Stock and mutual fund statements (if you reinvest dividends) – Many taxpayers use the dividends that they receive from stocks or mutual funds to buy more shares of the same stock or fund. These reinvested amounts add to the basis of the property and reduce the gain when They are eventually sold. Keep all such dividend statements for at least four years after the final sale.
  • Tangible property purchase and improvement records – Keep records of home, investment, rental-property, or business-property acquisitions; the related capital improvements; and the final settlement statements from the sale for at least four years after the underlying property is sold.

For example, when Congress instituted the large $250,000 home-sale-gain exclusion (which is $500,000 for married couples filing jointly) many years ago, homeowners began to be laxer in maintaining their home-improvement records, thinking that the large exclusions would cover any potential appreciation in their home’s value. Now, that exclusion may not always be enough to cover the gains from a sale, particularly for markets where property values have steadily risen; thus, keeping records of all such home improvements is vital.

What about the Tax Returns Themselves? Although the backup documents that you use to prepare your returns can usually be disposed of after the statutory period has expired, you may want to consider indefinitely keeping a copy of the tax returns themselves (the 1040, the attached schedules/statements, and the state return). If you just don’t have room to keep copies of your paper returns, digitizing them is an option.

If you have questions about whether to retain certain records, give this office a call. Before discarding any records, it is a good idea to make sure that they will not be needed down the road.

How to Pay Your Federal Taxes

Article Highlights:

  • Electronic Funds Withdrawal
  • Direct Pay
  • Electronic Federal Tax Payment System
  • Send a Check
  • Pay by Cash
  • Credit Card
  • Installment Agreement
  • Tap a Retirement Account

If you aren’t one of those lucky Americans who gets a tax refund from the IRS, you might be wondering how you go about paying your balance due. Here are some electronic and manual payment options that you can use to pay your federal income tax:

  • Electronic Funds Withdrawal – You can pay using funds from your bank account when your tax return is e-filed. There is no charge by the IRS for using this payment method, and payment can be arranged by your tax return preparer, allowing for e-filing of your return and submitting an electronic funds withdrawal request at the same time.
  • Direct Pay – You can schedule and make a payment directly from your checking or savings account using IRS Direct Pay. There is no fee for this service, and you will receive an e-mail notification when the funds have been withdrawn. Payments, including estimated tax payments, can be scheduled up to 30 days in advance. You can change or cancel the payment up to two business days before the scheduled payment date.
  • Electronic Federal Tax Payment System – This is a more sophisticated version of the IRS’s Direct Pay that allows not only federal income tax but also employment, estimated and excise tax payments to be made over the Internet or by phone from your bank account, with a robust authentication process to ensure the security of the site and your private information. This is a free service. Payments, which can be scheduled up to 365 days in advance, can be changed or cancelled up to two days prior to the scheduled payment date. You can use IRS Form 9783 to enroll in the system or enroll at EFTPS.gov – but do so well in advance of the date when a payment is due because the government will use U.S. mail to send you a personal identification number (PIN), which you will need to access your EFTPS account.
  • Send a Check – You can also pay the old-fashioned way by sending in a check along with a payment voucher. The payment voucher – IRS Form 1040-V – includes the information needed to associate your payment with your IRS account. IRS addresses for where to send the payment and your check are included with Form 1040-V.
  • Pay with Cash – Taxpayers without bank accounts or those who would just prefer to pay in cash can do so by making a cash payment at a participating 7-Eleven store. Taxpayers can do this at more than 7,000 locations nationwide. Taxpayers can visit IRS.gov/paywithcash for instructions on how to pay with cash. There is a very small charge for making a cash payment, and the maximum amount is $1,000 per payment. But don’t wait until the last minute, as it will take up to a week for the IRS to receive the cash payment.

The IRS also has a mobile app that allows taxpayers to pay with their mobile device. Anyone wishing to use a mobile device can access the IRS2Go app to pay with either Direct Pay or by debit or credit card. IRS2Go is the official mobile app of the IRS and is available for download from Google Play, the Apple App Store or the Amazon App Store.

If you are unable to pay the taxes that you owe, it is generally in your best interest to make other arrangements to obtain the funds needed to fully pay your taxes, so that you are not subjected to the government’s penalties and interest. Here are a few options to consider when you don’t have the funds to pay all of your tax liability.

  • Credit Card – Another option is to pay by credit card by using one of the service providers that works with the IRS. However, as the IRS will not pay the credit card discount fee, you will have to pay that fee. You will also have to pay the credit card interest on the payment.
  • Installment Agreement – If you owe the IRS $50,000 or less, you may qualify for a streamlined installment agreement that will allow you to make monthly payments for up to six years. You will still be subject to the late payment penalty, but it will be reduced by half. In addition, interest will also be charged at the current rate, and you will have to pay a user fee to set up the payment plan. By signing up for this arrangement, you agree to keep all future years’ tax obligations current. If you do not make payments on time or if you have an outstanding past-due amount in a future year, you will be in default of the agreement, and the IRS will then have the option of taking enforcement actions to collect the entire amount you owe. If you are seeking an installment agreement exceeding $50,000, the IRS will need to validate your financial condition and your need for an installment agreement through the information you provide in the Collection Information Statement (in which you list your financial information). You may also pay down your balance to $50,000 or less to take advantage of the streamlined option.
  • Tap a Retirement Account – This is possibly the worst option for obtaining funds to pay your taxes because it jeopardizes your retirement and the distributions are generally taxable at the highest bracket, which adds more taxes to the existing problem. In addition, if you are under age 59.5, such a withdrawal is also subject to a 10% early-withdrawal penalty, which will compound the problem even further.
  • Family Loan – Although it may be uncomfortable to ask, obtaining a loan from a relative or friend is an option because this type of loan is generally the least costly, in terms of interest.

Whatever you decide, don’t just ignore your tax liability, as that is the worst thing you can do, and it can only make matters worse.

Start Off on the Right Foot for the 2019 Tax Year

Article Highlights:

  • W-4 Updates
  • W-9 Collection
  • Estimated Tax Payments
  • Charitable Contributions
  • Required Minimum Distributions
  • Gifting
  • Retirement-Plan Contributions
  • Beneficiaries
  • Reasonable Compensation
  • Business-Vehicle Mileage
  • College-Tuition Plans

Individuals and small businesses should consider various ways of starting off on the right foot for the 2019 tax year.

W-4 Updates – If you are employed, then your employer takes the information from your Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form W-4 and applies it to the IRS’s withholding tables to determine the amount of income tax to withhold from your wages in each payroll period. This process did not work all that well in 2018 because, in the wake of the tax reform, the IRS did not have time to properly redesign Form W-4 and adjust its withholding tables. In fact, the IRS has announced that this task will not be completed until it issues the 2020 versions of Form W-4 and the withholding tables.

Thus, the problem from 2018 continues into 2019; if your 2018 refund or balance due was not the desired amount, then please consider adjusting your withholding based on your projected tax for 2019. If you need assistance, please call this office.

W-9 Collection – If you are operating a business, then you are required to issue a Form 1099-MISC to each service provider to which you have paid at least $600 during a given year. It is a good practice to collect a completed W-9 form from every service provider (even if you are paying less than $600), as you may use that provider again later in the year and may have difficulty getting a W-9 after the fact—especially from providers that do not plan to report all of their income for the year.

Estimated Tax Payments – If you are self-employed, then you prepay each year’s taxes in quarterly estimated payments by sending 1040-ES payment vouchers or making electronic payments. For the 2019 tax year, the first three payments are due on April 15, June 17, and September 16, 2019, and the final payment is due on January 15, 2020. Generally, these payments are based on the prior year’s taxable income; if you expect any significant changes in either income or deductions relative to the previous year, please contact this office for help in adjusting your payments accordingly.

Charitable Contributions – If you marginally itemize your deductions, then you can employ the bunching strategy, which involves taking the standard deduction one year but itemizing your deductions in the next. However, you must make this decision early in the year so that you can make two years’ worth of charitable contributions in the bunching year.

Required Minimum Distributions – Each year, if you are 70.5 or older, you must take a required minimum distribution from each of your retirement accounts or face a substantial penalty. By taking this distribution early in the year, you can ensure that you do not forget and accidentally subject yourself to penalties.

Gifting – If you are looking to reduce your estate-tax exposure or if you just want to give some money to family members, know that, each year, you can gift up to $15,000 to each of an unlimited number of beneficiaries without affecting the lifetime estate-tax exclusion amount or paying a gift tax.

Retirement-Plan Contributions – Review your retirement-plan contributions to determine whether you can afford to increase your contribution amounts and to make sure that you are taking full advantage of your employer’s contributions to the plan.

Beneficiaries – Marriages, divorces, births, deaths, and even family clashes all affect whom you include as a beneficiary. It is good practice to periodically review not just your will or trust but also your retirement plans, insurance policies, property holdings, and other investments to be sure that your beneficiary designations are up to date.

Reasonable Compensation – With the advent of the 20% pass-through deduction, which is available to most businesses other than C-corporations, the issue of reasonable compensation takes on a whole new meaning, particularly for S-corporations’ shareholders. This has been a contentious issue in the past, as it has allowed shareholders who are not just investors but who are actually working in the business to take a minimum salary (or no salary at all) so that all their income passes through the K-1 as investment income. This strategy allows such shareholders to avoid payroll taxes on income that should be treated as W-2 compensation. A number of issues factor into a discussion of reasonable compensation, including comparisons to others in similar businesses and to employees within the same business, as well as the cost of living in the business’s locale. This is a subjective amount, and it generally must be determined by a firm that specializes in making such determinations.

Business-Vehicle Mileage – Generally, vehicles with business use also have some amount of nondeductible personal use in a given year. It is always a good practice to record a vehicle’s mileage at the beginning and at the end of each year so as to determine its total mileage for that year. The total mileage figure is then used when prorating the personal- and business-use expenses related to that vehicle.

College-Tuition Plans – Contribute to your child’s Section 529 plan as soon as possible; the funds begin accumulating earnings as soon as they are in the account, which is important because the student will likely begin using that money at age 18 or 19.

Only a few of the tax-related actions that you take during a year will benefit yourself or others. The most important of these actions is keeping timely and accurate tax records; for businesses in particular, this is of the utmost importance. Those who have well-documented income and expense records generally come out on top when the IRS challenges them.

If you have any questions related to your taxes or if would like an appointment for tax projections or tax planning, please call this office.

The Tax Filing Deadline Is Around the Corner

Article Highlights:

  • Extensions
  • Balance-Due Payments
  • Contributions to Roth or Traditional IRAs
  • Estimated Tax Payments for the First Quarter of 2019
  • Individual Refund Claims for the 2015 Tax Year

As a reminder to those who have not yet filed their 2018 tax returns, April 15, is the due date to either file a return (and pay the taxes owed) or file for an automatic six-month extension (and pay the an estimate of the taxes owed). Caution should be exercised when preparing the extension application, which is IRS Form 4868. Even though this form is described as “automatic,” the extension is automatically granted only if it includes a reasonable estimate of the 2018 tax liability and only if that anticipated liability is paid along with the extension voucher. It is not uncommon for taxpayers to enter zero as the estimated tax liability without figuring the actual estimated amount. These taxpayers risk the IRS classifying their forms as having been improperly completed, which in turn makes the extensions invalid. If you need an extension, please contact this office so that we can prepare a valid extension for you.

The extension must be filed in a timely manner; at this office, we can file your extension electronically before the due date. If you are mailing an extension, be advised that the envelope with the extension form must only be postmarked on or before the April 15 due date. However, there are inherent risks associated with dropping an extension form in a mailbox; for instance, the envelope might not be postmarked in a timely fashion. Thus, those who have estimated tax due should mail their extension forms using registered or certified mail so as not to risk late-filing penalties.

In addition, the April 15 deadline also applies to the following:

  • Balance-Due Payments for the 2018 Tax Year – Be aware that Form 4868 is an extension to file, NOT an extension to pay. The IRS will assess late-payment penalties (with interest) on any balance due, even when the extension has been granted. Taxpayers who anticipate having a balance due need to estimate this amount and include payment for that balance, either along with the extension request (as indicated above) or electronically (through the IRS website).
  • Contributions to a Roth or Traditional IRA for the 2018 Tax Year – April 15 is the last day for 2018 contributions to either a Roth or a traditional IRA. Form 4868 does not provide an extension for making IRA contributions.
  • Individual Estimated Tax Payments for the First Quarter of 2019 – Taxpayers – especially those who have filed for extension – should be aware that the first installment of estimated taxes for the 2019 tax year is due on April 15. Taxpayers who fail to prepay the minimum (“safe-harbor”) amount can be subject to a penalty for the underpayment of the estimated tax. This penalty is based on the interest on the underpayment, which is calculated using the short-term federal rate plus 3 percentage points. The penalty is computed on a quarter-by-quarter basis, so even people who have prepaid the correct overall amount for the year may be subject to the penalty if the amounts are not paid proportionally or in a timely way. Federal tax law does provide ways to avoid the underpayment penalty. For instance, if the underpayment is less than $1,000 (referred to as the de minimis amount), no penalty is assessed. In addition, there are two safe-harbor prepayments:1. The first safe-harbor prepayment is based on the tax owed on the current year’s return. There is no penalty when the prepayments (including both withholding and estimated payments) equal or exceed 90% the owed amount.

    2. The second safe-harbor prepayment is based on the total tax amount (not including credits for prepayments) on the return for the immediately preceding tax year. This is generally set at 100% of the prior year’s tax liability. However, taxpayers with adjusted gross income exceeding $150,000 (or $75,000 for married taxpayers filing separately) must pay 110% of the prior year’s tax liability.

  • Individual Refund Claims for the 2015 Tax Year – The regular three-year statute of limitations expires for the 2015 tax return on April 15 of this year. Thus, no refund will be granted for a 2015 return (original or amended) that is filed after April 15. Taxpayers could risk missing out on the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit, the refundable American Opportunity Tax Credit for college tuition, and the refundable child credit for the 2015 tax year if they do not file before the statute of limitations ends. Caution: The statute does not apply to balances due for unfiled 2015 returns.

If your return is still pending because of missing information, please forward that information to this office as quickly as possible so that we can ensure that your return meets the April 15 deadline. Keep in mind that the last week of tax season is very hectic, and your returns may not be completed in time if you wait until the last minute. If you know that the missing information will not be available before the April 15 deadline, then please let us know right away so that we can prepare an extension request (and 2019 estimated-tax vouchers, if needed).

If you have not yet completed your returns, please call this office right away so that we can schedule an appointment and/or file an extension.