Disappointed in Your Tax Refund?

Article Highlights:

  • Average Refund Down
  • Tax Filings Down
  • Effects of Lower Refunds
  • Actual Tax Generally Lower
  • How This Happened

If your tax refund is less than you anticipated, you are not alone. In a report issued by the Treasury Department on February 14, the average refund it is paying in 2019 has dropped to $1,949 from $2,135 in the prior year. In addition, the number of returns filed so far has dropped from 13.5 million last year to 11.4 million this year for the same period.

With all the hype about how tax reform would reduce taxes, taxpayers were anticipating larger refunds this year but instead are receiving less, on average. This has left the Republican lawmakers who passed the tax reform scrambling to explain why the refunds are lower.

Lower refunds can be especially harmful to taxpayers who count on their refunds to pay their annual property taxes, holiday spending and other debts. Many count on the refunds to pay for summer vacations and other discretionary spending. Some who normally receive refunds may even find themselves owing money this year.

Although most taxpayers will actually pay less in taxes this year, this does not necessarily translate into increased refunds. For most, the tax cut provided more take-home pay during 2018, instead of adding to their refunds at the end of the year. This decrease in withholding spread over 52, 26 or 24 paychecks is far less noticeable than a lump sum added to the refund.

How did this happen? The culprit is generally the amount of tax you had withheld from your paycheck each payday. The tax reform was passed at the very end of 2017, not allowing the IRS sufficient time to adjust the employer withholding tables or the W-4 – Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate – for the new law. When they did a couple of months later, the revised withholding tables and W-4 produced lower withholding, leading to the lower refunds.

The IRS was aware of this and issued notices almost weekly cautioning taxpayers that the lower withholding would lead to lower refunds or perhaps even them owing instead of receiving a refund. The General Accounting Office estimates that the number of taxpayers who will owe taxes this year will increase from 18 to 21 percent.

If you are affected and want to avoid the same thing from happening next year, you may want this office to compare your current withholding to your projected tax liability so that you can adjust your withholding to produce the result you desire on your 2019 return.

Filing a 1099-MISC May Now Apply to Landlords. Are You Collecting the Needed W-9s?

Article Highlights:

  • $600 Threshold
  • Exceptions
  • Form W-9
  • Impact of Tax Reform
  • 1099-MISC Filing

If you use independent contractors to perform services for your business or your rental that is a trade or business, for each individual whom you pay $600 or more for the year, you are required to issue the service provider and the IRS a Form 1099-MISC after the end of the year, to avoid losing the deduction for their labor and expenses. (This requirement generally does not apply to payments made to a corporation. However, the exception does not extend to payments made for attorney fees and for certain payments for medical or health care services.)

It is not uncommon to have a repairman out early in the year, pay him less than $600, then use his services again later and have the total for the year exceed the $600 limit. As a result, you might overlook getting the information needed to file the 1099s for the year. Therefore, it is good practice to always have individuals who are not incorporated complete and sign the IRS Form W-9 the first time you use their services. Having a properly completed and signed Form W-9 for all independent contractors and service providers will eliminate any oversights and protect you against IRS penalties and conflicts.

The government provides IRS Form W-9, “Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification,” as a means for you to obtain the data required from your vendors in order to file the 1099s. It also provides you with verification that you complied with the law, should the individual provide you with incorrect information. We highly recommend that you have a potential vendor or independent contractor complete a Form W-9 prior to engaging in business with him or her.

Many small business owners and landlords overlook this requirement during the year, and when the end of the year arrives and it is time to issue 1099-MISCs to service providers, they realize they have not collected the required documentation. Often, it is difficult to acquire the contractor’s, handyperson’s, gardener’s, etc., information after the fact, especially from individuals with no intention of reporting and paying taxes on the income.

This has become even more important in light of the tax reform’s 20% pass-through deduction (Sec. 199A deduction), since the regulations for this new tax code section caution landlords that to be treated as a trade or business, and therefore to be generally eligible for the 199A deduction, they should consider reporting payments to independent contractor service providers on IRS Form 1099-MISC, which wasn’t generally required for rental activities in the past and still isn’t required when the rental is classified as an investment rather than as a trade or business. This caution was included in IRS regulations issued after the close of 2018, which caught everyone by surprise and left most rental property owners to deal with obtaining W-9s after the fact from service providers and issuing the 1099-MISCs after the due date of January 31, 2019. Each late-filed 1099-MISC is subject to a penalty of $100 if not filed by August 1, 2019.

1099-MISC forms must be filed electronically or on special optically scannable forms. If you need assistance with filing 1099-MISCs or have questions related to this issue, please give this office a call. Also, make sure you have all of your independent contractors or service providers complete a Form W-9 for 2019.

Unforced Errors – The 8 Most Common IRS Tax Penalties and How to Avoid Them in 2019

You know the old line about the inevitability of death and taxes? It’s still true. What isn’t inevitable, however, is the need to pay penalties to the IRS. It happens, but it doesn’t have to, and the main reason that it does is because taxpayers don’t educate themselves about the rules. When you get hit with an IRS penalty, it adds on to a number that you already wish you didn’t have to pay.

To ensure that you get through tax season without unnecessary costs and aggravation, here’s a list of the tax penalties that the IRS most frequently assesses against taxpayers.

The 8 Most Common Tax Penalties Assessed

  1. Penalty for underpaying estimated tax payments
  2. Penalty for taking early withdrawals from tax-advantaged retirement accounts, including IRA accounts and 401(k) accounts
  3. Penalty for taking nonqualified withdrawals from 529 plans, health savings accounts (HSAs), and similar tax-favored accounts
  4. Penalty for failing to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from tax-favored retirement accounts
  5. Penalty for making excess contributions to IRAs and other tax-favored accounts
  6. Penalty for failing to file, or for filing your required tax return after the designated due date
  7. Penalty for failing to pay your taxes on time
  8. Penalty for filing a substantially incorrect tax return or taking frivolous positions on a return

Let’s take a deep dive into each. The more you know, the better you’ll understand how to avoid these mistakes.

1. Penalty for not making estimated tax payments

Where does your income come from? If you’re a W-2 employee whose employer withholds your federal income tax on your behalf, then estimated tax payments are not something you need to worry about. On the other hand, if you get income from which withholding isn’t deducted, then you are legally obligated to submit estimated quarterly tax. Failure to do so is subject to penalty.

Who has to submit quarterly estimated taxes? You do if you’re a part of the “gig” economy which makes part or all of your income from freelance jobs or independent contracting work, or if you’re a retiree who relies on or derives income from Social Security and your personal savings accounts or other accounts whose withdrawals are taxable (or subject to capital gains). Own a small business? If you’re subject to self-employment tax, then you’re supposed to submit it quarterly. Though this requirement is straightforward, most people start their income journey as W-2 employees: they may have no familiarity with estimated quarterly taxes, or if they do they may not be in the habit of paying it and have forgotten. Whatever the reason, the penalties for failure to make these payments can add up pretty quickly.

The government has set up the quarterly payments so that the IRS Form 1040-ES is marked with four dates throughout the year — April 15th, June 15th, September 15th and January 15th (or the next business day if the 15th falls on weekend or legal holiday) of the year that the year’s tax filing is due. In doing so, they have it set up so that the majority of the taxes that are owed are paid throughout the year, though not on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis the way that W-2 employees withholding is sent in. Failing to send the monies in for each quarter of 2018 is set to be penalized on an annualized basis of 4 to 5 percent. The best way to avoid the penalty is to pay your taxes on the dates that they’re due, calculating the payments accurately enough to represent either 90 (85% for 2018) percent of the actual amount you end up owing or 100% of the amount that was appropriate from the previous tax year. That 100% of the previous year’s amount is acceptable under what is known as safe-harbor, though for those whose income is more than $150,000, the percentage needed is 110% of the previous year’s income tax. Conversely, those who owe less than $1,000 in annual taxes do not get penalized at all. It is important to note that the penalty percentage has jumped to 6 percent as of the first quarter of 2019.

2. Penalty for taking early withdrawals from tax-advantaged retirement accounts, including IRA accounts and 401(k) accounts

Having a retirement account is a smart thing to do, and it’s something that the government has encouraged by allowing for the creation of special tax-advantaged vehicles. These tax advantages represent a tremendous incentive and benefit, but they come with strings: until you are 59 ½, you are not permitted to take money out of those accounts prior to retirement without having to have to pay a hefty 10% penalty.

As important as it is to know about the penalty so that you don’t take money out hastily and without a full understanding of the impact of doing so, but it’s also important to know when you can take the money out without being penalized. You’re permitted to take out up to $10,000 from and IRA for the purchase of a first home, as well as to pay any uncovered, unreimbursed medical bills that add up to more than ten percent of your adjusted gross income from any retirement plan. If you’ve been out of work and received unemployment compensation for a minimum of 12 weeks, you can take out up to $10,000 from and IRA to pay for your health insurance premiums.  Distributions can also be taken from an IRA to pay for qualified higher education expenses, including fees, room and board and of course tuition, all without penalty. And if you’re leaving your job during the same year that you’re turning 55 or older, you can take money out of a 401(k) account from the job that you’re leaving without penalty. The fact that there is no penalty does not negate the income taxes that you would be required to pay on withdrawals from any retirement account.

3. Penalty for taking nonqualified withdrawals from 529 plans, health savings accounts (HSAs), and similar tax-favored accounts

Just as the government works hard to make sure that the retirement accounts they’ve allowed to be tax-advantaged are used as intended, they take a similar approach to other tax-advantaged accounts, penalizing improper use and withdrawals from 529 plans, health savings accounts, and similar vehicles.

  • 529 plans – These plans provide the ability to set aside funds to pay for the cost of college, and were expanded under the recent tax reform act to also allow for funds to grow tax-free for eligible expenses for K-12 education too. Any money that is deposited into a 529 can be withdrawn without penalty as long as the money is going to pay for tuition, books and similar school-related expenses, but if the money is withdrawn for any other purpose, the withdrawn amount is subject to both income taxes on appreciation and a 10% penalty on the entire distribution. One important thing to note: if you have set up a 529 in one child’s name and wanted to use the monies for another child, that is not subject to penalty as long as you change the beneficiary. The same is true for Coverdell ESAs.
  • Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) – These plans were created to assist with the payment of out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. Money deposited into those accounts can grow to be withdrawn tax free as long as they are used for eligible costs; however, if you’re under the age of 65 and you use any of those funds for nonmedical expenses, the withdrawn amount will be subject to a 20% penalty and will also need to be reported on your tax return as income.

4. Penalty for failing to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from tax-favored retirement accounts

If you are a person who has been dedicated to putting money into your 401(k), your IRA, or another retirement account, then the idea of taking money out before you feel like you need it will just feel wrong. Unfortunately, the government requires that you do so once you hit a certain age. The IRS’ rules say that once you are 70 ½ you have to take what is known as a required minimum distribution, a percentage that is based on a published table that factors in your life expectancy and how much your account holds. As much as you might want to let your money continue to grow, the government wants to limit the amount of tax-deferred growth that each taxpayer can realize and start claiming its portion of the money you’ve been keeping it from taxing: that’s the reason for the requirement.

No matter how much you’d prefer not to touch your principal, the IRS takes an aggressive approach to make sure that you do so: the penalty for failure to take the amount out on the government timetable is more than significant – it’s 50% of the amount that you were supposed to take out, and if you don’t take out the right amount then you’re going to have to pay half of whatever you should have taken out but didn’t. The annual deadline is December 31st, though for the first year that you owe you have until April 1st to take the withdrawal. Not only do you have to make sure that you make your payment on time, but you have to calculate it correctly, and that can be somewhat complicated because the amount changes each year as your life expectancy and the value of your account shift. The good news is that the bank or investment company where you’re holding your money is generally equipped to assist with the calculation, and can even make things easier by arranging for automatic dispersals. Setting this up makes a lot of sense, as it eliminates the emotional twinge of writing a check and makes sure that it gets done so you can avoid that draconian penalty. However, the IRS does have the power to waive the penalty if you can show reasonable cause for failing to take the distribution and have a made a corrective distribution before applying for a penalty waiver.

5. Penalty for contributing too much to tax-favored accounts

Have you ever heard the phrase “they get you coming and going?” It may have been written for the IRS. Just as you’re learning that they’ll penalize you for not taking out enough money, you find out that they’ll also penalize you for depositing too much. Tax-deferred accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s limit the amount that you can contribute each year, and if you end up putting in too much, you’re going to be hit with a 6% charge. Though that penalty is a significantly lower percentage than is imposed for not taking the annual required minimum distribution, the amount can grow over the years if it isn’t addressed: if you make the mistake of leaving the excess funds in the account, you’ll face the same penalty each year until it’s been withdrawn. That can add up quickly, especially if you aren’t aware of the mistake you made until the government hits you with the penalty several years later.

The solution is to review the amount that you’ve deposited to make sure that there is no overage, and if there is to take it out before the deadline for your tax return. If you’ve filed an extension, then you’ve also extended the deadline for the withdrawal. This penalty applies to all tax-deferred accounts that limit the amount of money you can deposit in a given year.

6. Penalty for failing to file, or for filing your required tax return after the designated due date

The tax deadline is set in stone every year. It’s in the news; it’s on the IRS website and your tax forms. There’s no escaping it, and if you try, then you’re going to get penalized. Some people miss the deadline because they are procrastinators or they just forgot, while others make the mistake of thinking that if they don’t send in paperwork, then they won’t have to pay. Whatever the reason, you’re going to end up getting caught one way or another and having to pay the penalty. Those who run on the idea of “if I don’t send them my name and income then they’ll never know that I owe them money” fail to realize that the entity that provided that income also is required to send in paperwork to the government. When there is no tax return filed to match the tax information filed by your employer or investment, the government is going to begin an audit, and you’ll be in far bigger financial trouble than you would have been if you’d filed a return and let the government know that you couldn’t afford to pay what you owe. Failure to file results in penalties that add up quickly: 4.5% of the tax due will be assessed and added to your tax liability for each month that you’re late, up until you pass the five-month mark and hit the maximum penalty of 22.5%. There is also a minimum penalty amount of smaller of $210 or 100% of your tax due where it greater the percentage amount.

7. Penalty for failing to pay your taxes on time

In all fairness, some people don’t file their tax return because they don’t have the money available to pay what they owe. The truth is that the amount that is penalized for failing to file is much more than what you would be penalized if you did file without paying. Though you’re looking at a penalty one way or another, it makes sense to file, even without sending in the money that you owe.

We’ve already gone over the 4.5%  monthly penalty for failure to file, up to a maximum penalty of 22.5%. On top of the failure to file penalty, there is 0.5% penalty per month for failure to pay to bring the total penalty for failing to file and pay for the first five months to 5% per month. However, If you get your paperwork on time without actually sending in a payment, you avoid the 4.5% late filing penalty. Even after the first 5 months, the late payment penalty continues to accrue until the tax is paid.  One important thing to remember is that the requirement to pay begins on the tax due date – even if you request an extension for filing your return, the clock starts ticking on the non-payment penalty on the tax deadline date. If you’re at all able to send in money, then do so – even if it’s only a portion of what you owe.

For those who are suffering from financial difficulties, the IRS offers installment arrangements to make things easier. Though penalties are still likely to be tacked on to your tax liability, setting up an arrangement will prevent you from getting into arrears with the government and stop them from initiating a collection action. There are also negotiations available for those who provide proof of their inability to pay. The government is willing to help and does help many taxpayers, offering compromises where appropriate. You’re much better off coming forward, submitting all necessary paperwork on time, and asking for help.

8. Penalty for filing a substantially incorrect tax return or taking frivolous positions on a return

The IRS understands that mistakes happen: people have trouble with mathematical calculations or misunderstand definitions, and when that happens, and they discover the errors, they generally send out a letter notifying the taxpayer of their mistake and are open to hearing explanations. Sometimes they forgive the mistake and allow a correction to be made, and in other cases, they impose a penalty, usually no more than 20% of the underpayment for innocent errors. When the penalty is that high, it’s generally an indication that the government has reason to believe that the mistake represents legal negligence. It can also be a reflection of the magnitude of the underpayment, with larger underpayments resulting in more significant penalties.

However, none of these penalties are as significant as what you will face if the government has reason to believe that your underpayment was intentional.

Purposely understating the information on your tax return to minimize your liability constitutes civil fraud, and subjects you to 75% penalties of the amount that you underpaid. Of course, you will also still be on the hook for the amount that you should have paid in the first place if your tax return had been accurate and reflective of your real income. The IRS has little patience for either fraud or for what they refer to as frivolous tax arguments meant to help people evade paying what they owe. Depending upon the individual situation, some taxpayers are penalized with no concern for the amount that they actually owed, and are required to pay a flat rate of $5,000.

These penalties are what results from civil fraud, but that is not the worst penalty you can face. The IRS has the right to charge a person who perpetrates significant underpayment or tax evasion as a criminal fraud subject to jail time in addition to economic penalties. Where the line between civil tax fraud and criminal tax evasion is drawn is subjective, but assume that when the government can prove that you purposely tried to get out of paying what you owe, you’re going to be held accountable in a way that’s going to hurt. Lying on a return is considered a form of perjury, and there are plenty of tax evaders who have been forced to spend years in jail and to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties.

IRS Penalties Are A Entirely Preventable Problem

Though the list of penalties provided here is not exhaustive, it gives you a good idea of where you can get into trouble, as well as how to avoid trouble. Learn the requirements, follow them, and when in doubt, seek help. It’s also important to know that if you do get yourself into trouble, you’re much better off facing your situation then trying to pretend they don’t exist. A tax professional will guide you through the process and help you find your best answers.

Several Ways to Defer the Tax on Gains

Article Highlights:

  • Tax Deferred Exchanges
  • Installment Sales
  • Qualified Opportunity Funds

When a sale of a business or investment property results in a gain, the seller is typically taxed on that gain during the year of the sale, even when the gain was generated over many years. However, the tax code provides opportunities to spread this gain over several years, to postpone it by deferring the gain into another property, or to simply defer it for a specified period of time. These arrangements can be accomplished by selling the property in an installment sale, by exchanging the property for another, or by investing in a qualified opportunity fund. As with all tax strategies, these options have unique requirements. The following is an overview of what tax law says about these strategies.

Tax-Deferred Exchange – Many people refer to this arrangement as a “tax-free exchange,” but the gain is not actually tax-free; rather, it is deferred into another property. The gain will eventually be taxed when that property is sold (or will be deferred again in another exchange). These arrangements are also known as “1031 exchanges,” in reference to the tax code section that authorizes them: IRC Sec. 1031.

In the past, these exchanges applied to all properties, but since 2017, they have only applied to business- or investment-related exchanges of real estate. One of the requirements is that the exchanges must involve like-kind properties. However, the tax regulations for real estate exchanges are very liberal, and virtually any property can be exchanged for any other, regardless of whether they are improved or unimproved. One exception to this rule is that U.S. property cannot be exchanged for foreign property.

Exchange treatment is not optional; if an exchange meets the requirements of Sec. 1031, the gain must be deferred. Thus, taxpayers who do not wish to defer gains should avoid using an exchange.

It is almost impossible to for an exchange to be simultaneous, so the tax code permits delayed exchanges. Although such exchanges have other requirements, they generally involve a replacement property (or properties) that is identified within 45 days and acquired within 180 days or the tax-return due date (including extensions) for the year when the original property was transferred—whichever is sooner. An exchange accommodator typically holds the proceeds from such exchanges until they can be completed.

The tax code also permits reverse exchanges, in which an exchange accommodator holds the replacement property’s title until the exchange can be completed. The other exchange property must be identified within 45 days, and the transaction must be completed within 180 days of the sale of the original property.

The amount of gain that is deferred using the exchange method depends on the properties’ fair-market values and mortgage amounts, as well as on whether an unlike property (boot) is involved in the exchange. The rule of thumb is that the exchange is more likely to be fully tax deferred when the properties have greater value and equity.

Installment Sale – In an installment sale, the property’s seller provides a loan to the buyer. The seller then only pays income taxes only on the portion of the taxable gains that occur during the year of the sale; this includes the down payment and any other principal payments received in that year. The seller then collects interest on the loan at rates approaching those that banks charge. Each year, the seller pays tax on the interest and the taxable portion of the principal payments received in that year. For a sale to qualify as an installment sale, the seller must receive at least one payment after the year when the sale occurs. Installment sales are most frequently used for real estate; they cannot be used for the sale of publicly traded stock or securities. The installment sale provisions also do not apply when the sale results in a tax loss.

If the sold property is mortgaged, the mortgage must be paid off as part of the sale. Even if the seller does not have the financial resources to pay off the existing loan, an installment sale may be possible if the seller takes a secondary lending position or includes the existing mortgage in the new loan.

An installment sale has hazards; for instance, the buyer may decide to either pay off the installment loan or sell the property early. If either occurs, the installment plan ends, and the balance of the gains are taxable in the year when the buyer either paid off the loan or sold the property (unless the new buyer assumes the loan).

Qualified Opportunity Funds – Individuals who have capital gains from the sale of a personal, investment, or business asset can temporarily defer those gains into a qualified opportunity fund (QOF). In the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Congress created QOFs to help communities that still have not recovered from the previous decade’s economic downturn. QOFs are intended to promote investments in certain economically distressed communities, or “qualified opportunity zones.” To qualify as a QOF, a fund must hold at least 90% of its assets in qualified-opportunity-zone property.

Investments in QOFs provide unique tax incentives that are designed to encourage taxpayers to participate in these funds:

  1. For a gain to be deferrable, it must be invested in a QOF within 180 days of the sale that resulted in the gain.
  2. The gain is deferred until December 31, 2026—or to the year when the taxpayer withdraws the QOF assets, if that occurs earlier.
  3. As the investment is an untaxed gain, the taxpayer’s initial basis in the QOF is zero; this basis lasts for five years, so any funds withdrawn from the QOF in that time are fully taxable.
  4. If the funds are left in the QOF for at least five years, the basis increases to 10% of the deferred gain; in other words, 10% of the original gain is tax-free.
  5. If the funds are left in the QOF for at least seven years, the basis increases again, to 15% of the deferred gain; thus 15% of the original gain is tax-free.
  6. If the funds remain in the QOF after the tax on the gain has been paid, then the basis is equal to the amount of the original deferred gain.
  7. If the funds are left in the QOF for at least 10 years, the taxpayer can elect to increase the basis to the property’s fair market value. With this adjustment, the appreciation of the QOF investment is not taxable.

If a taxpayer’s investment in a QOF consists of both deferred gains and other funds, it is treated as two investments. The special tax treatment described above only applies to the deferred gains; the other funds are treated as an ordinary investment.

Unlike tax-deferred exchanges, QOFs only require the investment of the gains (not the entire proceeds of the sale).

Each of the aforementioned tax strategies is complicated and only applies in certain situations. None of these strategies should be utilized without careful analysis to ensure their suitability. Please note that not all of the qualifications for these strategies are included in this article.

If you have questions about these strategies or would like to make an appointment to analyze whether these tax-deferral options fit your situation, please call this office.

IRS Giving a Break to Some Taxpayers Who Under-prepaid Their 2018 Taxes

Article Highlights:

  • Tax Reform
  • Prepayments
  • W-4
  • Safe Harbor Payments
  • Penalty Waivers & Exceptions
  • Mitigating the Penalty

Taxpayers are required to pre-pay their taxes for any tax year through payroll withholding, estimated tax payments or a combination of the two. Employees and retirees generally accomplish this through withholding, and self-employed individuals and those with investment income by paying quarterly estimated payments.

The late-2017 passage of tax reform that became effective for 2018 and its radical changes added considerable confusion for taxpayers trying to determine how much they should prepay for 2018. This confusion was made worse because the existing W-4 that employees complete and that their employers use to determine the correct withholding was designed for prior law and does not work well with the new tax law. As a result, there has been ongoing concern by the IRS that many taxpayers will end up owing tax this year when they file their 2018 returns, even though they got a tax reduction due to the tax reform changes, simply because their pre-payments through withholding and estimated tax payments were not enough.

For most of 2018, the IRS was issuing alerts that taxpayers may be under-withheld because of tax reform and the fact the W-4 could no longer be relied upon to produce a correct withholding amount.

Taxpayers whose pre-payments are less than certain safe harbor amounts are penalized. Those safe harbors are:

  • 90% of the current year’s tax liability or
  • 100% of the prior year’s tax liability (110% where the prior year AGI is over $150,000 ($75,000 if married and filing separate returns).

Recently several members of Congress have called upon the IRS to waive underpayment penalties for 2018. On January 16, 2019, although not waiving the penalties entirely, the IRS did change the current year safe harbor from 90% of the 2018 tax liability to 85%, providing a break for some taxpayers.

Even if you don’t meet one of the safe-harbor exceptions, a waiver of the penalty for 2018 may apply if you:

  • Retired (after reaching age 62) or became disabled in 2017 or 2018.
  • You did not make payments because of one of the following situations and it would be inequitable to impose the penalty:
    a. Casualty
    b. Disaster, or
    c. Other unusual circumstance.

There are two other exceptions to the penalty for 2018:

  • If the total tax shown on your 2018 return minus the tax that was withheld is less than $1,000, you will not owe a penalty.
  • If you had no tax liability in 2017, were a U.S. citizen or resident alien for all of 2017, and your 2017 return was for a full 12 months (or would have been had you been required to file), you won’t be charged an under-prepayment penalty.

In addition, where your tax liability and /or tax pre-payments were uneven, the penalty amount may be mitigated by figuring it on a quarterly basis.

If you have questions or would like to make sure your withholding and estimated payments are adequate for 2019, please give this office a call.

Tax Time Is Around the Corner! Are You Ready?

Article Highlights:

  • Time to gather your information for your tax appointment
  • New for 2018
  • Choosing your alternatives
  • Tips for pulling your information together

Tax time is just around the corner, and if you are like most taxpayers, you are finding yourself with the ominous chore of pulling together the records for your tax appointment. The difficulty of this task depends upon how well you maintained your tax records throughout the year. No matter how good your record keeping was, arriving at your tax appointment fully prepared will give us more time to:

  • Consider every possible legal deduction;
  • Evaluate which income reporting methods and deductions are best suited to your situation;
  • Explore current law changes that are affecting your tax status; and
  • Talk about tax-planning alternatives that could reduce your future tax liability.

New for 2018 – There are a number of new complications this year, including:

  • To combat tax fraud, the IRS is requiring all tax preparers to verify their clients’ identity with a government picture ID, although there is an exception for clients if the preparer has had a multi-year business relationship with a client AND has previously verified the client’s identity with a government picture ID. Since that was not previously required, it will be necessary for all clients this year, so be sure to bring a picture ID (also a requirement for a spouse) to your appointment.
  • Although the federal government changed its tax rules with the tax reform, many states with state income tax, such as California, have not conformed to the federal changes, which means a separate set of rules may apply to your state and federal tax returns.
  • The tax reform added a new 20% deduction for pass-through income from business activities. In some cases, the computation can be very complicated and will take additional time.

Choosing Your Best Alternatives – The tax law allows a variety of methods of handling income and deductions on your return. The choices you make as you prepare your return will often affect not only the current year but also future returns. Topics these choices relate to include:

  • Sales of property – If you’re receiving payments on a sales contract over a period of years, you can sometimes choose between reporting the whole gain in the year you sell or over a period of time as you receive payments from the buyer.
  • Depreciation – You’re able to deduct the cost of your investment into certain business properties. You can either depreciate the costs over a number of years or, in certain cases, deduct them all in one year.

Where to Begin – Preparation for your tax appointment should begin in January. Right after the New Year, set up a safe storage location, such as a file drawer, cupboard, or safe. As you receive pertinent records, file them right away, before you forget or lose them. Make this a habit, and you’ll find your job a lot easier on your appointment date. Other general suggestions to prepare for your appointment include:

  • Segregate your records according to income and expense categories. File medical expense receipts in one envelope or folder, mortgage interest payment records in another, charitable donations in a third, etc. If you receive an organizer or questionnaire to complete before your appointment, fill out every section that applies to you. (Important: Read all explanations, and follow the instructions carefully. By design, organizers remind you of transactions you may otherwise miss.)
  • Call attention to any foreign bank account, foreign financial account, or foreign trust in which you have an ownership interest, signature authority, or controlling stake. We also need to know about foreign inheritances and ownership of foreign assets. In short, bring any foreign financial dealings to our attention so we know if you will have any special reporting requirements. The penalties for not making and submitting required reports can be severe.
  • If you acquired your health insurance through a government marketplace, you will receive Form 1095-A, issued by the marketplace, which will include information needed to complete your return. In addition, you will need to provide proof of insurance to avoid a penalty or qualify for one of the many exemptions from the penalty. If you received a hardship penalty exemption from the marketplace, you will have been issued an exemption certificate number (ECN), which must be included on your tax return. The 1095-A and ECN documentation need to be included with the other material you bring to your appointment. If your insurance coverage was through an employer and the employer issued a Form 1095-B, Form 1095-C, or substitute form detailing your coverage, bring it to the appointment.
  • Keep your annual income statements separate from your other documents (e.g., W-2s from employers; 1099s from banks, stockbrokers, etc.; and K-1s from partnerships). Be sure to take these documents to your appointment, including the instructions for K-1s!
  • Write down your questions so you don’t forget to ask them at the appointment. Review last year’s return. Compare your income on that return to your income for the current year. A dividend from ABC stock on your prior-year return may remind you that you sold ABC this year and need to report the sale, or that you haven’t yet received the current year’s 1099-DIV form.
  • Make sure you have Social Security numbers for all of your dependents. The IRS checks these carefully and can deny deductions and credits for returns filed without them.
  • Compare deductions from last year with your records for this year. Did you forget anything?
  • Collect any other documents and financial papers that you’re puzzled about. Prepare to bring these to your appointment so you can ask about them.

Accuracy Even for Details – Make sure you review personal data to ensure the greatest accuracy possible in all detail on your return. Check names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and occupations on last year’s return. Note any changes for this year. Although your telephone number and e-mail address aren’t required on your return, they are always helpful should questions occur during return preparation.

Marital Status Change – If your marital status changed during the year, you lived apart from your spouse, or your spouse died during the year, list the dates and details. Bring copies of prenuptial, legal separation, divorce, or property settlement agreements, if any, to your appointment. If your spouse passed away during the year, you should have a copy of his or her trust agreement or will available for review.

Dependents – If you have qualifying dependents, you will need to provide the following for each (if you previously provided us with items 1 through 3, you will not need to supply them again):

  1. First and last name
  2.  Social security number
  3. Birth date
  4. Number of months living in your home
  5. Their income amounts (both taxable and nontaxable). If your dependent is your child over age 18, note how long the child was a full-time student during the year.

For anyone other than your child to qualify as your dependent, they must pass five strict dependency tests. If you think one or more other individuals qualify as your dependents (but you aren’t sure), tally the amounts you provided toward their support vs. the amounts they provided. This will simplify the final decision.

Some Transactions Deserve Special Treatment – Certain transactions require special treatment on your tax return. It’s a good idea to invest a little extra preparation effort when you have had the following types of transactions:

  • Sales of Stock or Other Property: All sales of stocks, bonds, securities, real estate, and any other property need to be reported on your return, even if you had no profit or loss. List each sale, and have purchase and sale documents available for each transaction.The purchase date, sale date, cost, and selling price must all be noted on your return. Make sure this information is contained on the documents you bring to your appointment.
  • Gifted or Inherited Property: If you sell property that was given to you, you need to determine when and for how much the original owner purchased it. If you sell property you inherited, you will need to know the original owner’s death date and the property’s value at that time. You may be able to find this on estate tax returns or in probate documents; otherwise, ask the executor.
  • Reinvested Dividends: You may have sold stock or a mutual fund for which you participated in a dividend reinvestment program. If so, you will need to have records of each stock purchase made with the reinvested dividends.
  • Sale of Home: The tax law provides special breaks for home sale gains, and you may be able to exclude up to $500,000 of the gain from your primary home if you file a married joint return and meet certain ownership, occupancy, and holding period requirements. The maximum exclusion is $250,000 for others. Since the cost of improvements made on your home can also be used to reduce any gains, it is good practice to keep a record of them. The exclusion of gains applies only to a primary residence, so keeping a record of improvements to other property, such as your second home, is important. Be sure to bring a copy of the sale documents (usually the final closing escrow statement).
  • • Purchase of a Home: Be sure to bring a copy of the final closing escrow statement if you purchased a home.
  • Vehicle Purchase: If you purchased a new plug-in electric car (or cars) this year, you may qualify for a special credit. Please bring the purchase statement to the appointment with you.
  • Home Energy–Related Expenditures: If you installed a solar, geothermal, or wind power-generation system in your home or second home, please bring the details of the purchase and manufacturer’s credit qualification certification to your appointment. You may qualify for a substantial energy-related tax credit.
  • Identity Theft: Identity theft is rampant and can impact your tax filings. If you have reason to believe that your identity has been stolen, please contact this firm as soon as possible. The IRS provides special procedures for filing if you have had your identity stolen.
  • Car Expenses for Business: If you used one or more automobiles for business, list the expenses of each business vehicle separately. When claiming vehicle-related business expenses, the government requires your total mileage, business miles, and commuting miles for each business vehicle to be reported on your return, so be prepared to have those numbers available. Job-related vehicle expenses are not deductible by employees on their federal returns in years 2018 through 2025. However, some states, including California, still allow them. So if you have unreimbursed employee business expenses, continue to provide the information noted above in case the deduction is allowed for state taxes, and if you were reimbursed for mileage through an employer, know the reimbursement amount and whether it was included in your W-2.
  • Charitable Donations: You must substantiate cash contributions (regardless of amount) with a bank record or written communication from the charity showing the name of the charitable organization, date, and amount.Unreceipted cash donations put into a “Christmas kettle,” church collection plate, etc., are not deductible. For clothing and household contributions, donated items must generally be in good or better condition, and items such as undergarments and socks are not deductible. You must keep a record of each item contributed that indicates the name and address of the charity, the date and location of the contribution, and a reasonable description of the property. Contributions valued under $250 and dropped off at an unattended location do not require a receipt. For contributions above $500, the record must also include when and how the property was acquired and your cost basis in the property. For contributions above $5,000 and other types of contributions, please call this office for additional requirements.

If you have questions about assembling your tax data prior to your appointment, please give this office a call.

If You Are a Recreational Gambler, Here Are Some Tax Issues You Need to Know

Article Highlights:

  • Winnings
  • W-2G Reporting
  • Losses
  • Social Security Income
  • Health Care Insurance Premium Subsidies
  • Medicare B and D Premiums
  • Online Gambling Accounts

Gambling takes many forms: casino games, horse racing, sports book betting, lotto tickets, scratchers, bingo, etc. For virtually everyone, gambling is a recreational activity and, as such, is done for fun. For most gamblers, their losses for the year will exceed their winnings, and since losses in excess of winnings are not deductible, most gamblers don’t bother to report either, which isn’t in line with the tax law’s filing requirements.

If your winnings at one time hit certain levels, the government requires the gambling establishment to collect your Social Security number and report your winnings to Uncle Sam on a Form W-2G. Gambling establishments will issue a Form W-2G if you:

  • Win $1,200 or more on a slot machine or from bingo.
  • Win $1,500 or more on a keno jackpot.
  • Win more than $5,000 in a poker tournament.
  • Win $600 or more from all other games, but only if the payout is at least 300 times your wager.

Reporting Winnings – Many individuals believe that they only have to report the winnings for which they receive a Form W2-G. Unfortunately, the IRS has a different viewpoint. Although you may be able to offset your reported gains with gambling losses, the IRS anticipates that you will also have had gambling winnings that were under the W2-G reporting threshold and will raise this issue during an audit.

Gambling Losses – The good news is that you can deduct gambling losses if you itemize your deductions but only to the extent of your gambling income. In other words, you can’t have a net gambling loss on your tax return. Bad news: if you don’t itemize your deductions, you will have to pay taxes on the entire winnings, even if you have a net gambling loss, as is the case for most individuals.

GAMBLING GOTCHA #1 – Since you can’t net your winnings and losses, the full amount of your winnings ends up in your adjusted gross income (AGI). The AGI is used to limit other tax benefits, as discussed later. So, the higher the AGI, the more the tax benefits may be limited.

GAMBLING GOTCHA #2 – If you don’t itemize your deductions, you can’t deduct your losses. Thus, individuals taking the standard deduction will end up paying taxes on all of their winnings, even if they had a net loss. The recent tax reform brought us significantly higher standard deduction amounts and, for itemized deductions, limited the deduction for state and local taxes and eliminated the deduction for unreimbursed employee business expenses and investment expenses, among other changes. The anticipated result is that fewer taxpayers will be itemizing their deductions and more gamblers will be paying taxes on their winnings.

Documenting Losses – The next logical question is: how are you going to document your gambling losses, if audited? Don’t rush down to the track and start collecting discarded tickets, since they generally aren’t acceptable documentation because of their ready availability. The IRS has published guidelines on acceptable documentation to verify losses. They indicate that an accurate diary or similar record that is regularly maintained by the taxpayer, supplemented by verifiable documentation, will usually be acceptable evidence to substantiate wagering winnings and losses. In general, this diary should contain at least the following information:

(1) the date and type of each specific wager or wagering activity,
(2) the name of the gambling establishment,
(3) the address or location of the gambling establishment,
(4) the names of other persons (if any) present with the taxpayer at the gambling establishment, and
(5) the amounts won or lost.

Save all available documentation, including items such as losing lottery and keno tickets, checks, and casino credit slips. You should also save any related documentation such as hotel bills, plane tickets, entry tickets, and other items that would document your presence at a gambling location. If you are a member of a slot club, the casino may be able to provide a record of your electronic play. You might also obtain affidavits from designated gambling officials at the gambling facility. With regard to specific wagering transactions, your winnings and losses might be further supported by:

  • Keno – Copies of keno tickets you purchased and that were validated by the gambling establishment.
  • Slot Machines – A record of all winnings by date and time for each machine that was played.
  • Table Games – The number of the table at which you were playing as well as casino credit card data indicating whether credit was issued in the pit or at the cashier’s cage.
  • Bingo – A record of the number of games played, the cost of the tickets purchased, and the amounts collected on winning tickets.
  • Racing – A record of the races, entries, amounts of wagers, and amounts collected on winning tickets and lost on losing tickets. Supplemental records can include unredeemed tickets and payment records from the racetrack.
  • Lotteries – A record of ticket purchase dates, winnings, and losses. Supplemental records can include unredeemed tickets, payment slips, and winning statements.

Other Tax Side Effects of Gambling – Because gambling income is reported in full as income and the losses are an itemized deduction, gambling winnings increase a taxpayer’s AGI for the year. An individual’s AGI is used to limit other tax benefits, and having gambling income can have an adverse impact on your taxes. Here are some examples:

  • Social Security Income – For taxpayers receiving Social Security benefits, whether those benefits are taxable depends upon the taxpayer’s AGI for the year. The taxation threshold for Social Security benefits is $32,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly, $0 for married taxpayers filing separately, and $25,000 for all other filing statuses. If the sum of AGI (before including any Social Security income), interest income from municipal bonds, and one-half the amount of Social Security benefits received for the year exceeds the threshold amount, then 50–85% of the Social Security benefits will be taxable.
    GAMBLING GOTCHA #3 – So, if your gambling winnings push your AGI for the year over the threshold amount, then your gambling winnings – even if you had a net loss – can cause some (up to 85%) of your Social Security benefits to be taxable.
  • Health Insurance Subsidies – Under Obamacare, lower-income individuals who purchase their health insurance from a government marketplace are given a subsidy in the form of a tax credit to help pay the cost of their health insurance. That tax credit is based upon the AGIs of all members of the family, and the higher the family’s income, the lower the subsidy will become.
    GAMBLING GOTCHA #4 – Thus, the addition of gambling income to your family’s income can result in significant reductions in the insurance subsidy, requiring you to pay more for your family’s health insurance coverage for the year. Additionally, if your subsidy was based upon your estimated income for the year, your premiums were reduced by applying the subsidy in advance, and you subsequently had some gambling winnings, then you could get stuck paying back part of the subsidy when you file your return for the year.
  • Medicare B and D Premiums – If you are covered by Medicare, the amount you are required to pay (generally withheld from your Social Security benefits) for Medicare B premiums is normally about $130–$134 per month and is based on your AGI two years prior. However, if that AGI is above $85,000 ($170,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly), then the monthly premiums can more than triple. If you also have prescription drug coverage through Medicare Part D and your AGI exceeds the $85,000/$170,000 threshold, then your monthly surcharge for Part D coverage will range from $13.30 to $74.80 (2018 rates).
    GAMBLING GOTCHA #5 – The addition of gambling winnings to your AGI can result in higher Medicare B and D premiums.
  • Online Gambling Accounts – If you have an online gambling account, there is a good chance that the account is with a foreign company. All U.S. persons with a financial interest or signature authority over foreign accounts with an aggregate balance of over $10,000 anytime during the prior calendar year must report those accounts to the Treasury by the April due date for filing individual tax returns or face draconian penalties.
    GAMBLING GOTCHA #6 – Regardless of whether you were a winner or loser, if your online account was over $10,000, you will be required to file aFinCEN Form 114 (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts), commonly referred to as the FBAR. For non-willful violations, civil penalties up to $10,000 may be imposed; the penalty for willful violations is the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the account’s balance at the time of the violation.
  • Other Limitations – The forgoing are the most significant “gotchas.” There are numerous other tax rules that limit tax benefits based on AGI, as discussed in gotcha #1. These include medical deductions, child and dependent care credits, the child tax credit, and the earned income tax credit, just to name a few.

If you have questions related to gambling and taxes, please call this office.

Do I Qualify for an IRS Offer in Compromise?

If you’re facing outstanding tax debt that you cannot pay, you may want to consider looking into an Offer in Compromise from the IRS. Specifically, an Offer in Compromise is an option offered from the IRS to qualifying individuals that allows them to settle tax debt for less than what they actually owe.

Unfortunately, there seem to be a lot of misunderstandings about Offers in Compromise; many people falsely believe that these are seldom accepted by the IRS. In reality, it is estimated that the current acceptance rate is over 40%, with the average dollar amount of a settlement reaching more than $10,000.

If you’re worried about your inability to pay tax debt, knowing the basic qualifications of an IRS Offer in Compromise and what to expect from the application process can be extremely helpful moving forward.

How to Know if You Qualify

Generally, there are three factors that are considered by the IRS when somebody applies for an Offer in Compromise. Most commonly, the IRS must have a belief that you will not be able to pay your tax debt off at any point in the near future. This means that your financial situation is probably not going to improve anytime soon and that the IRS would not likely be successful in forcing collections on you.

At the end of the day, the IRS needs to believe they are getting a fair deal – so if you have any potential to pay your debt at any point in the near future, you may not qualify.

You might also qualify for an Offer in Compromise if there is doubt as to your actual tax liability; if you have documentation proving that you owe less in taxes than the IRS believes to be true, or if an assessor has made a mistake on your reporting, you may be more likely to have an Offer in Compromise accepted by the IRS.

Finally, if paying your tax bill would create a significant financial hardship, you may also qualify for an Offer in Compromise. Of course, proving financial hardship can sometimes be a challenge.

In addition to all of these considerations, there are several other eligibility requirements that you must meet in order to qualify for an Offer in Compromise:

  • You must pay the application fee
  • You must have filed all of your required tax returns
  • You cannot be going through a bankruptcy at the time of filing
  • You must submit all required documentation

What to Expect From the Process

One of the most complicated aspects of going through the application process for an IRS Offer in Compromise is filling out and submitting all the required paperwork. There are several documents you may need to complete to even be considered for an Offer in Compromise, including:

  • IRS Form 433-A – this form requires information on your assets, liabilities, expenses, and income to determine your Reasonable Collection Potential.
  • IRS Form 433-B – this form needs to be filled out for businesses applying for an Offer in Compromise.
  • IRS Form 656 – use this form to apply for an Offer in Compromise so long as there are no doubts as to your tax liability.
  • IRS Form 656-L – use this form to apply if you are disputing your tax liability to the IRS.

In addition to completing these official forms as part of the application process, you will also need to provide some documentation, such as:

  • health care statements
  • bank and credit card statements
  • investment information
  • proof of living expenses
  • car loan, mortgage, and similar loan statements
  • copies of related tax returns

Working With a Tax Professional Can Help

As you can probably see, the process of determining your eligibility and applying for an Offer in Compromise with the IRS can be quite time consuming and complex. This is where it can be helpful to consult with a tax professional for assistance. A qualified and experienced tax professional will be able to assess your current tax situation and give you a better idea as to whether or not going through the Offer in Compromise application process is worth your time and efforts.

If so, he or she will also be able to assist you with the application process, ensuring that you’re filling out the correct forms and that you submit all required documentation as well. This can increase your chances of reaching a successful offer with the IRS and take a lot of the stress and burden off your chest.

Even if you don’t qualify for an Offer in Compromise, your tax professional may be able to assist you in figuring out other alternatives for making your tax payment more financially manageable for you. This might include options to work out a payment/installment program with the IRS, among other options.

The Bottom Line

Overall, getting an Offer in Compromise accepted by the IRS is nearly a 50/50 shot – but if you meet the eligibility requirements and take the time to correctly submit all paperwork and documentation, your chances of reaching an offer are high. And the best way to get the help you need in gathering this documentation and submitting this paperwork is to consult with an experienced tax professional, so reach out to yours today. If you don’t already have a tax professional that you can turn to, schedule a consultation with one at your earliest convenience to get the ball rolling.

The 1099-MISC Filing Date Is Just Around the Corner – Are You Ready?

Article Highlights:

  • Independent Contractors
  • Non-employee Compensation
  • 1099 Filing Requirement
  • Due Dates
  • Penalties
  • Form W-9 and 1099 Worksheet

If you engage the services of an individual (independent contractor) in your business, other than one who meets the definition of an employee, and you pay him or her $600 or more for the calendar year, then you are required to issue that person a Form 1099-MISC to avoid penalties and the prospect of losing the deduction for his or her labor and expenses in an audit. Payments to independent contractors are referred to as non-employee compensation (NEC).

Because so many fraudulent tax returns were being filed right after e-filing opened up in January and before the old 1099-MISC due date at the end of February, the IRS had no way of verifying NEC. That opened the door for the IRS to be scammed out of millions of dollars in erroneous earned income tax credit (EITC). To plug that hole, the IRS moved the filing date for NEC 1099-MISCs to January 31 and no longer releases refunds for returns that include EITC until the NEC amounts can be verified.

Thus, the due date for filing 2018 1099-MISC forms for NEC is now January 31, 2019. That is also the same due date for mailing the recipient his or her copy of the 1099-MISC.

It is not uncommon to have a repairman out early in the year, pay him less than $600, use his services again later in the year, and have the total for the year be $600 or more. As a result, you may have overlooked getting the needed information from the individual to file the 1099s for the year. Therefore, it is good practice to always have individuals who are not incorporated complete and sign an IRS Form W-9 the first time you engage them and before you pay them. Having a properly completed and signed Form W-9 for all independent contractors and service providers will eliminate any oversights and protect you against IRS penalties and conflicts. If you have been negligent in the past about having the W-9s completed, it would be a good idea to establish a procedure for getting each non-corporate independent contractor and service provider to fill out a W-9 and return it to you going forward.

The government provides IRS Form W-9, Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification, as a means for you to obtain the vendor’s data you’ll need to accurately file the 1099s. It also provides you with verification that you complied with the law, in case the vendor gave you incorrect information. We highly recommend that you have potential vendors complete a Form W-9 prior to engaging in business with them. The W-9 is for your use only and is not submitted to the IRS.

The penalty for failure to file a required information return such as the 1099-MISC is $270 per information return. The penalty is reduced to $50 if a correct but late information return is filed no later than the 30th day after the required filing date of January 31, 2019, and it is reduced to $100 for returns filed after the 30th day but no later than August 1, 2019. If you are required to file 250 or more information returns, you must file them electronically.

In order to avoid a penalty, copies of the 1099-MISCs you’ve issued for 2018 need to be sent to the IRS by January 31, 2019. The forms must be submitted on magnetic media or on optically scannable forms (OCR forms). Note: Form 1099-MISC is also used to report other types of payments, including rent and royalties. The payments to independent contractors are reported in box 7 of the 1099-MISC, and the dates mentioned in this article apply when box 7 has been used. When the 1099-MISC is used to report income other than that in box 7, the due date to the form’s recipient is January 31, 2019, while the copy to the government is due by February 28, 2019.

If you have questions, please call. This firm prepares 1099s for submission to the IRS along with recipient copies and file copies for your records. Use the 1099 worksheet to provide this office with the information needed to prepare your 1099s.

Don’t Overlook Tax Credits

Article Highlights:

  • Non-refundable vs. Refundable Credit
  • Childcare Credit
  • Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Child & Dependent Tax Credit
  • Saver’s Credit
  • Vehicle Tax Credits
  • Adoption Credit
  • Residential Energy-Efficient Property Credit

Tax credits are a tax benefit that offsets your actual tax liability, as opposed to a tax deduction, which reduces your income. Congress provides tax credits to individual taxpayers for a number of reasons, including as a form of assistance for lower-income taxpayers, to stimulate employment, and to stimulate certain investments, among other things.

Tax credits come in two types: non-refundable and refundable. A non-refundable credit can only reduce your tax liability to zero; any excess is either carried forward or is simply lost. In the case of a refundable credit, if there is excess after reducing your tax liability to zero, the excess is refundable. The following is a summary of some of the tax credits available to individual taxpayers:

Childcare Credit – Parents who work or are looking for work often must arrange for care of their children during working hours or while searching for work. If this describes your situation and your children requiring care are under 13 years of age, you may qualify for a childcare tax credit.

The credit ranges from 20% to 35% of non-reimbursed expenses, based upon your income, with the higher percentages applying to lower-income taxpayers and the lower percentages applying to higher-income taxpayers.

Applicable Percentage of AGI for the Childcare Credit

 

AGI OverBut Not OverApplicable PercentAGI OverBut Not OverApplicable Percent
015,0003529,00031,00027
15,00017,0003431,00033,00026
17,00019,0003333,00035,00025
19,00021,0003235,00037,00024
21,00023,0003137,00039,00023
23,00025,0003039,00041,00022
25,00027,0002941,00043,00021
27,00029,0002843,000No Limit20

The maximum expense amount allowed is $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more, and the credit is non-refundable, which means it can only reduce your tax to zero, and the excess is lost.

As an example, say your adjusted gross income (AGI) is between $33,000 and $35,000. Your credit percentage would be 25%. If you paid childcare expenses of $4,000 for two children under the age of 13, your tax credit would be $1,000 ($4,000 x 25%). If your tax for the year was $5,000, the credit would reduce that tax to $4,000. On the other hand, if your tax for the year was $800, the credit would reduce your tax to zero, and the $200 excess credit would be lost.

This credit also applies when a taxpayer or spouse is disabled or a full-time student, in which case special “earned income” allowances are provided for months when the taxpayer or spouse is disabled or a full-time student. Please call this office for additional details if this situation applies in your case.

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – Congress established the EITC as an income supplement for working individuals in lower-paying employment. If you qualify, it could be worth as much as $6,431 in 2018. It is a refundable credit.

The EITC is based on the amount of your earned income (income from work for wages and/or self-employment) and whether there are qualifying children in your household. Qualifying children are those who live with you for over half the year, are related, and are under the age of 19 or a full-time student under the age of 24. The credit increases as your earned income increases. The table below shows the earned income at which the maximum credit is achieved for 2018.

Qualifying ChildrenEarned Income Maximum Credit
None6,780$519
1$10,180$3,461
2$14,290$5,716
3 or more$14,290$6,431

The credit amount phases out after reaching the maximum based on filing status and number of qualifying children. The 2018 phase-out ranges are shown in the table below.

Qualifying Children

Filing StatusPhase-out Range
NoneMarried Filing Joint$14,170–20,950
Others$8,490–15,270
1Married Filing Joint$24,350–46,010
Others$18,660–40,320
2Married Filing Joint$24,350–51,492
Others$18,660–45,802
3 or moreMarried Filing Joint$24,350–54,884
Others$18,660–49,194

In addition, there are some qualification requirements: you, your spouse (if married and filing jointly), and each qualifying child must have a valid Social Security number, and you cannot use the filing status married filing separately. You cannot be a qualifying child of another person, your investment income for the year cannot exceed $3,500 (2018), and you cannot exclude earned income from working abroad. If you do not have a qualifying child, you must be at least age 25 but under 65 at the end of the year.

Even though this credit can be worth thousands of dollars to a low-income family, the IRS estimates as many as 25 percent of people who qualify for the credit do not claim it, simply because they don’t understand the criteria. If you qualified for but failed to claim the credit on your return for 2015, 2016, and/or 2017, you can still claim it for those years by filing an amended return or an original return, if you have not previously filed. Please call for assistance.

Members of the military can elect to include their nontaxable combat pay in their earned income for the earned income credit. If that election is made, the military member must include in their earned income all nontaxable combat pay they received for the year.

Child & Dependent Tax Credit – As an aid to families with children, the tax reform increased the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000 for each qualified child. A qualified child for this tax credit is one who is under age 17 at the end of the year, is related, is not self-supporting, lived with you over half the year, has a Social Security number, and is claimed as your dependent. The refundable portion of this credit is equal to 15% of your earned income but limited to $1,400.

Beginning in 2018, you are also able to claim a non-refundable credit of $500 for each of your dependents who do not qualify for the child credit.

For both the child and dependent credits, the credit begins to phase out for married taxpayers with an AGI of $400,000 ($200,000 for others).

Saver’s Credit – Congress created the non-refundable saver’s credit as a means of stimulating retirement savings among lower-income individuals. It helps to offset part of the first $2,000 that workers voluntarily contribute to traditional or Roth individual retirement arrangements (IRAs), SIMPLE-IRAs, SEPs, 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans for employees of public schools and certain tax-exempt organizations, 457 plans for state or local government employees, and the Thrift Savings Plan for federal employees. The saver’s credit is available in addition to any other tax savings that apply as a result of contributing to retirement plans. The credit is a percentage of the first $2,000 contributed to an eligible retirement plan. The following table illustrates the percentage based upon filing status and AGI for 2018.

Adjusted Gross Income Range Credit 
Married Filing JointHead of HouseholdOthersPercentage
$0–$38,000$0–$28,500$0–$19,00050
$38,001–$41,000$28,501–$30,750$19,001–$20,50020
$41,001–$63,000$30,751–$47,250$20,501–$31,50010
$63,001 & Over$47,251 & Over$31,501 & OverNo Credit

Example – Eric and Heather are married, both age 25, and filing a joint return. Eric contributed $3,000 through his 401(k) plan at work, and Heather contributed $500 to her IRA account. Their modified AGI for 2018 was $28,000. The credit is computed as follows:

Eric’s 401(k) contribution was $3,000, but only the
first $2,000 can be used………………………………………………………………….. $2,000
Heather’s IRA contribution was $500, so it can all be used……………. 500
Total qualifying contributions…………………………………………………………… $2,500
Credit percentage for a MFJ AGI of $28,000 from the table……………. X .50
Non-refundable saver’s credit…………………………………………………………….$1,250

Vehicle Tax Credits – If you are considering purchasing a new car or light truck (less than 14,000 pounds), don’t overlook the fact that Congress included a substantial tax credit for the purchase of the many electric vehicles currently being offered for sale, providing a tax credit worth as much as $7,500.

To be eligible for the credit, you must acquire the vehicle for use or lease and not for resale. Additionally, the vehicle’s original use must commence with you, and you must use the vehicle predominantly in the United States.

Congress did include a phase-out provision for this credit that applies by vehicle manufacturer. The credit begins to phase out once the manufacturer sells 200,000 electric vehicles. To see if the make and model you are considering qualify, visit the IRS website.

The credit is available whether you use the vehicle for business, personally, or a combination of both. The prorated portion of the credit that applies to business use becomes part of the general business credit, and any amount not used on your return for the year when you purchase the vehicle can be carried back to the previous year and then carried forward until used up, but for no more than 20 years. The personal portion is non-refundable.

Adoption Credit – If you are an adoptive parent or are planning to adopt a child, you may qualify for the adoption credit. The amount of the credit is based on the expenses incurred that are directly related to the adoption of a child under the age of 18 or a person who is physically or mentally incapable of self-care.

This is a 1:1 credit for each dollar of qualified expenses up to the maximum for the year, which is $13,810 for 2018. The credit is non-refundable, which means it can only reduce your tax liability to zero (as opposed to potentially resulting in a cash refund). But the good news is that any unused credit can be carried forward for up to five years to reduce your future tax liability.

Qualified expenses generally include adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, and travel expenses that are reasonable, necessary and directly related to the child’s adoption, and they may be for both domestic and foreign adoptions; however, expenses related to adopting a spouse’s child are not eligible for this credit. When adopting a child with special needs, the full credit is allowed, whether or not any qualified expenses were incurred.

The credit is phased out for higher-income taxpayers. For 2018, the AGI (computed without foreign-income exclusions) phase-out threshold is $207,140, and the credit is completely phased out at the AGI of $247,140. Unlike most phase-outs, this one is the same regardless of filing status. However, taxpayers filing as married filing separately cannot claim the credit.

Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit – This tax credit was created to reward individuals for investing in equipment that uses alternative energy sources to create electrical power for use in a taxpayer’s home or second home. It includes alternative power sources such as fuel cells, wind energy, and geothermal heat pumps, for which the credit expires after 2021.

However, the credit is most commonly associated with the home solar credit, which is equal to 30% of the cost of the solar electric system for an individual’s primary and second homes, with no limit on the cost of the solar system. Even though the credit is non-refundable, any amount not used in the first year carries over to subsequent years.

The credit percentage is phased-out as shown in the table.

Home Energy Credit Percentage
Year2018–2019202020212021
Percentage302622None

Before deciding to add a solar electric system to your home, you need to consider if you can actually afford the system and whether it is worth having one, after taking into account the system’s cost, the financing interest, the reduced electricity costs, and the tax credit. You should make an objective analysis without pressure from a salesperson. These credits are substantial, but the one thing salespeople and contractors typically fail to mention is that the credit is not refundable, and even though it carries over through 2021, there is a good chance you will never use it all. It may be appropriate for you to consult with this office before entering into a contract for a home solar system.

If you have questions or would like additional details related to any of these credits, please give the office a call.