Recent Developments That May Affect Your Tax Situation

The following is a summary of important tax developments that occurred in October, November, and December of 2018 that may affect you, your family, your investments, and your livelihood. Please call us for more information about any of these developments and what steps you should implement to take advantage of favorable developments and to minimize the impact of those that are unfavorable.

Business meals. One of the provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) disallows a deduction for any item with respect to an activity that is of a type generally considered to constitute entertainment, amusement, or recreation. However, the TCJA did not address the circumstances in which the provision of food and beverages might constitute entertainment. The new guidance clarifies that, as in the past, taxpayers generally may continue to deduct 50% of otherwise allowable business meal expenses if:

  1. The expense is an ordinary and necessary expense paid or incurred during the tax year in carrying on any trade or business;
  2. The expense is not lavish or extravagant under the circumstances;
  3. The taxpayer, or an employee of the taxpayer, is present at the furnishing of the food or beverages;
  4. The food and beverages are provided to a current or potential business customer, client, consultant, or similar business contact; and
  5. In the case of food and beverages provided during or at an entertainment activity, the food and beverages are purchased separately from the entertainment, or the cost of the food and beverages is stated separately from the cost of the entertainment on one or more bills, invoices, or receipts.

Convenience of the employer. IRS provided new guidance under the Code provision allowing for the exclusion of the value of any meals furnished by or on behalf of an individual’s employer if the meals are furnished on the employer’s business premises for the convenience of the employer. IRS determined that the “Kowalski test” — which provides that the exclusion applies to employer-provided meals only if the meals are necessary for the employee to properly perform his or her duties — still applies. Under this test, the carrying out of the employee’s duties in compliance with employer policies for that employee’s position must require that the employer provide the employee meals in order for the employee to properly discharge such duties in order to be “for the convenience of the employer”. While IRS is precluded from substituting its judgment for the business decisions of a taxpayer as to its business needs and concerns and what specific business policies or practices are best suited to addressing such, IRS can determine whether an employer actually follows and enforces its stated business policies and practices, and whether these policies and practices, and the needs and concerns they address, necessitate the provision of meals so that there is a substantial noncompensatory business reason for furnishing meals to employees.

Depreciation and expensing. IRS provided guidance on deducting expenses under Code Sec. 179(a) and depreciation under the alternate depreciation system (ADS) of Code Sec. 168(g), as amended by the TCJA. The guidance explains how taxpayers can elect to treat qualified real property, as defined under the TCJA, as property eligible for the expense election. The TCJA amended the definition of qualified real property to mean qualified improvement property and some improvements to nonresidential real property, such as: roofs; heating, ventilation and air-conditioning property; fire protection and alarm systems; and security systems. The guidance also explains how real property trades or businesses or farming businesses, electing out of the TCJA interest deduction limitations, can change to the ADS for property placed in service before 2018, and provides that such is not a change in accounting method. In addition, the guidance provides an optional depreciation table for residential rental property depreciated under the ADS with a 30-year recovery period.

Partnerships. IRS issued final regulations implementing the new centralized partnership audit regime, which is generally effective for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017 (although partnerships could have elected to have its provisions apply earlier). Under the new rules, adjustments to partnership-related items are determined at the partnership level. The final regulations clarify that items or amounts relating to transactions of the partnership are partnership-related items only if those items or amounts are shown, or required to be shown, on the partnership return or are required to be maintained in the partnership’s books and records. A partner must, on his or her own return, treat a partnership item in a manner that’s consistent with the treatment of that item on the partnership’s return. The regulations clarify that so long as a partner notifies the IRS of an inconsistent treatment, in the form and manner prescribed by the IRS, by attaching a statement to the partner’s return (including an amended return) on which the partnership-related item is treated inconsistently, this consistency requirement is met, and the effect of inconsistent treatment does not apply to that partnership-related item. If IRS adjusts any partnership-related items, the partnership, rather than the partners, is subject to the liability for any imputed underpayment and will take any other adjustments into account in the adjustment year. As an alternative to the general rule that the partnership must pay the imputed underpayment, a partnership may elect to “push out” the adjustments, that is, elect to have its reviewed year partners take into account the adjustments made by the IRS and pay any tax due as a result of these adjustments.

State & local taxes. IRS has provided safe harbors allowing a deduction for certain payments made by a C corporation or a “specified pass-through entity” to or for the use of a charitable organization if, in return for such payment, they receive or expect to receive a state or local tax credit that reduces a state or local tax imposed on the entity. Such payment is treated as meeting the requirements of an ordinary and necessary business expense. For tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, the TCJA limits an individual’s deduction to $10,000 ($5,000 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return) for the aggregate amount of the following state and local taxes paid during the calendar year:

  1. Real property taxes;
  2. Personal property taxes;
  3. Income, war profits, and excess profits taxes, and
  4. General sales taxes.

This limitation does not apply to certain taxes that are paid and incurred in carrying on a trade or business or a for-profit activity. An entity will be considered a specified pass-through entity only if:

  1. The entity is a business entity other than a C corporation that is regarded for all federal income tax purposes as separate from its owners;
  2. The entity operates a trade or business;
  3. The entity is subject to a state or local tax incurred in carrying on its trade or business that is imposed directly on the entity; and
  4. In return for a payment to a charitable organization, the entity receives or expects to receive a state or local tax credit that the entity applies or expects to apply to offset a state or local tax described in (3), above, other than a state or local income tax.

Personal exemption suspension. IRS provided guidance clarifying how the suspension of the personal exemption deduction from 2018 through 2025 under the TCJA applies to certain rules that referenced that provision and were not also suspended. These include rules dealing with the premium tax credit and, for 2018, the individual shared responsibility provision (also known as the individual mandate). Under the TCJA, for purposes of any other provision, the suspension of the personal exemption (by reducing the exemption amount to zero) is not be taken into account in determining whether a deduction is allowed or allowable, or whether a taxpayer is entitled to a deduction.

Obamacare hardship exemptions. IRS guidance identified additional hardship exemptions from the individual shared responsibility payment (also known as the individual mandate) which a taxpayer may claim on a Federal income tax return without obtaining a hardship exemption certification from the Health Insurance Marketplace (Marketplace). Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare), if a taxpayer or an individual for whom the taxpayer is liable isn’t covered under minimum essential coverage for one or more months before 2019, then, unless an exemption applies, the taxpayer is liable for the individual shared responsibility payment. Under the guidance, a person is eligible for a hardship exemption if the Marketplace determines that:

  1. He or she experienced financial or domestic circumstances, including an unexpected natural or human-caused event, such that he or she had a significant, unexpected increase in essential expenses that prevented him or her from obtaining coverage under a qualified health plan;
  2. The expense of purchasing a qualified health plan would have caused him or her to experience serious deprivation of food, shelter, clothing, or other necessities; or
  3. He or she has experienced other circumstances that prevented him or her from obtaining coverage under a qualified health plan.

Certain Obamacare due dates extended. IRS has extended one of the due dates for the 2018 information reporting requirements under the ACA for insurers, self-insuring employers, and certain other providers of minimum essential coverage, and the information reporting requirements for applicable large employers (ALEs). Specifically, the due date for furnishing to individuals the 2018 Form 1095-B (Health Coverage) and the 2018 Form 1095-C (Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage) is extended to Mar. 4, 2019. Good-faith transition relief from certain penalties for 2018 information reporting requirements is also extended.

Limitation on deducting business interest expense. IRS has provided a safe harbor that allows taxpayers to treat certain infrastructure trades or businesses (such as airports, ports, mass commuting facilities, and sewage and waste disposal facilities) as real property trades or businesses solely for purposes of qualifying as an electing real property trade or business. For tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, the TCJA provides that a deduction allowed for business interest for any tax year can’t exceed the sum of:

  1. The taxpayer’s business interest income for the tax year;
  2. 30% of the taxpayer’s adjusted taxable income for the tax year; plus
  3. The taxpayer’s floor plan financing interest (certain interest paid by vehicle dealers) for the tax year.

The term “business interest” generally means any interest properly allocable to a trade or business, but for purposes of the limitation on the deduction for business interest, it doesn’t include interest properly allocable to an “electing real property trade or business”. Thus, interest expense that is properly allocable to an electing real property trade or business is not properly allocable to a trade or business, and is not business interest expense that is subject to the interest limitation.

Avoiding penalties. IRS has identified the circumstances under which the disclosure on a taxpayer’s income tax return with respect to an item or position is adequate for the purpose of reducing the understatement of income tax under the substantial understatement accuracy-related penalty for 2018 income tax returns. The guidance provides specific descriptions of the information that must be provided for itemized deductions on Form 1040 (Schedule A); certain trade or business expenses; differences in book and income tax reporting; and certain foreign tax and other items. The guidance notes that money amounts entered on a form must be verifiable, and the information on the return must be disclosed in the manner set out in the guidance. An amount is verifiable if, on audit, the taxpayer can prove the origin of the amount (even if that number is not ultimately accepted by the IRS) and the taxpayer can show good faith in entering that number on the applicable form. If the amount of an item is shown on a line of a return that does not have a preprinted description identifying that item (such as on an unnamed line under an “Other Expense” category), the taxpayer must clearly identify the item by including the description on that line. If an item is not covered by this guidance, disclosure is adequate with respect to that item only if made on a properly completed Form 8275 (Disclosure Statement) or 8275-R (Regulation Disclosure Statement), as appropriate, attached to the return for the year or to a qualified amended return.

Recent Developments That May Affect Your Tax Situation

The following is a summary of important tax developments that have occurred in July, August, and September that may affect you, your family, your investments, and your livelihood. Please call Launch Consulting Inc at 512-666-0729 for more information about any of these developments and what steps you should implement to take advantage of favorable developments and to minimize the impact of those that are unfavorable.

IRS shoots down states’ SALT limitation workaround. For 2018 through 2025, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) limits an individual taxpayer’s annual SALT (state and local tax) deductions to a maximum of $10,000, with no carryover for taxes paid in excess of that amount. (The SALT deduction limit doesn’t apply to property taxes paid by a trade or business or in connection with the production of income.) As a result of this change, many taxpayers will not get a full federal income tax deduction for their payments of state and local taxes. Following the TCJA’s passage, some high-tax states implemented workarounds to mitigate the effect of the SALT deduction limit for their residents. One method used was the establishment of charitable funds to which taxpayers can contribute and receive a tax credit in exchange. The IRS has issued proposed regulations, which would apply to contributions after Aug. 27, 2018, that effectively kill this workaround. The regulations would provide that a taxpayer who makes payments to or transfers property to an entity eligible to receive tax deductible contributions must reduce his or her charitable deduction by the amount of any state or local tax credit the taxpayer receives or expects to receive.

IRS also clarified that the proposed regulation crackdown on the SALT limitation workaround doesn’t apply to businesses. In other words, a business generally can deduct a payment to a charitable or governmental entity if the payment is made with a business purpose.

IRS clarifies who is a qualifying relative for family credit purposes. Under the TCJA, effective for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017 and before Jan. 1, 2026, you can’t claim a dependency exemption for dependents, including qualifying relatives, but you may be eligible for a $2,000 credit for each qualifying child and a $500 credit (called the “family credit”) for each qualifying non-child dependent, including qualifying relatives. One of the conditions for being a qualifying relative is that the person’s gross income for the year can’t be more than the exemption amount. That condition remains the same in the Tax Code, but the exemption amount has been reduced to zero because the dependency exemption has has been eliminated. The IRS has clarified that the gross income limit for a qualifying relative for tax credit purposes (as well as for other purposes, such as head-of-household status), is determined by reference to what the exemption amount would have been if it hadn’t been reduced to zero by the TCJA. Thus, after 2017 and before 2026, the gross income limit is $4,150, adjusted for inflation after 2018.

IRS explains 20% deduction for qualified business income. The IRS has issued regulations on the new 20% deduction for qualified business income (QBI) created by the TCJA, also known as the pass-through deduction. Here’s a summary of the basic rules:

For tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, taxpayers other than corporations may be entitled to a deduction of up to 20% of their qualified business income (QBI) from a domestic business operated as a sole proprietorship, or through a partnership, S corporation, trust or estate. This deduction can be taken in addition to the standard or itemized deductions.

In general, the deduction is equal to the lesser of:

A. 20% of QBI plus 20% of qualified real estate investment trust (REIT) dividends and qualified publicly traded partnership (PTP) income, or
B. 20% of taxable income minus net capital gains.

QBI generally is the net amount of qualified items of income, gain, deduction, and loss, from any qualified trade or business. But QBI doesn’t include capital gains and losses, certain dividends and interest income, reasonable compensation paid to the taxpayer by any qualified trade or business for services rendered for that trade or business, and any guaranteed payment to a partner for services to the business.

Generally, the deduction for QBI can’t be more than the greater of:

a. 50% of the W-2 wages from the qualified trade or business; or
b. 25% of the W-2 wages from the qualified trade or business plus 2.5% of the unadjusted basis of certain tangible, depreciable property held and used by the business during the year for production of QBI.

But this limit on the deduction for QBI doesn’t apply to taxpayers with taxable income below a threshold amount ($315,000 for married individuals filing jointly, $157,500 for other individuals, indexed for inflation after 2018), with a phase-in for taxable income over this amount.

A qualified trade or business doesn’t include performing services as an employee. Additionally, a qualified trade or business doesn’t include a trade or business involving the performance of services in the fields of health, law, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, investing and investment management, trading, dealing in certain assets or any trade or business where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of one or more of its employees. This exception only applies if a taxpayer’s taxable income exceeds $315,000 for a married couple filing a joint return, or $157,500 for all other taxpayers; the benefit of the deduction is phased out for taxable income over this amount.

The IRS’s new regulations explaining the 20% deduction for QBI are highly detailed and complex. A sampling of the important guidance contained in the guidance follows:
• Partnership guaranteed payments are not considered attributable to a trade or business and thus do not constitute QBI.
• To the extent that any previously disallowed losses or deductions are allowed in the tax year, they are treated as items attributable to the trade or business for that tax year. But this rule doesn’t apply for losses or deductions that were disallowed for tax years beginning before Jan. 1, 2018; they are not taken into account for purposes of computing QBI in a later tax year.
• Generally, a deduction for a net operating loss (NOL) is not considered attributable to a trade or business and therefore,is not taken into account in computing QBI. However, to the extent the NOL is comprised of amounts attributable to a trade or business that were disallowed under a specialized excess business loss limitation for noncorporate taxpayers, the NOL is considered attributable to that trade or business.
• Interest income received on working capital, reserves, and similar accounts is not properly allocable to a trade or business. In contrast, interest income received on accounts or notes receivable for services or goods provided by the trade or business is not income from assets held for investment, but income received on assets acquired in the ordinary course of trade or business.
• The 20% deduction for QBI does not reduce net earnings from self-employment or net investment income under the rules for the 3.8% surtax on net investment income.
• Where a business (or a major portion of it, or a separate unit of it) is bought or sold during the year, the W-2 wages of the individual or entity for the calendar year of the acquisition or disposition are allocated between each individual or entity based on the period during which the employees of the acquired or disposed-of trade or business were employed by the individual or entity.
• The rule generally barring a health services business from being a qualified trade or business doesn’t include the provision of services not directly related to a medical field, even though the services may purportedly relate to the health of the service recipient. For example, the performance of services in the field of health does not include the operation of health clubs or health spas that provide physical exercise or conditioning to their customers, payment processing, or research, testing, and manufacture and/or sales of pharmaceuticals or medical devices.
• The rule generally barring the performance of services in the field of actuarial science from being a qualified trade or business does not include the provision of services by analysts, economists, mathematicians, and statisticians not engaged in analyzing or assessing the financial costs of risk or uncertainty of events.
• The rule barring consulting from being a qualified trade or business doesn’t apply to consulting that is embedded in, or ancillary to, the sale of goods if there is no separate payment for the consulting services. For example, a company that sells computers may provide customers with consulting services relating to the setup, operation, and repair of the computers, or a contractor who remodels homes may provide consulting prior to remodeling a kitchen.

Bonus depreciation may be claimed for used property. The TCJA boosted the first-year bonus depreciation allowance from 50% to 100% for qualified property acquired and placed in service after Sept. 27, 2017 and before Jan. 1, 2023. That means a business can write off the cost of most machinery and equipment in the year it’s placed in service. And, for the first time ever, for property acquired and placed in service after Sept. 27, 2017, bonus depreciation may be claimed for used as well as new equipment. The IRS has explained that used equipment and machinery qualifies for the 100% bonus first-year depreciation allowance if: the taxpayer (or a predecessor) didn’t use the property at any time before the acquisition; the property wasn’t acquired from a related party or from a component member of a controlled corporate group; and the taxpayer’s basis in the used property isn’t figured by reference to the basis of the property in the hands of the seller or transferor.

Form W-4 for 2019 will be similar to 2018 version. The IRS has announced that the 2019 version of the Form W-4 (Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate) will be similar to the current 2018 version. IRS had earlier issued a draft W-4 for 2019 that was longer than the 2018 version and more complex due to changes made by the TCJA. Bowing to complaints that the proposed changes to the form were too confusing and too complicated, the IRS relented and announced that the Form W-4 for 2019 will be similar to the current 2018 version.

Simplified per-diem increase for post-Sept. 30, 2018 travel. An employer may pay a per-diem amount to an employee on business-travel status instead of reimbursing actual substantiated expenses for away-from-home lodging, meal and incidental expenses (M&E). If the rate paid doesn’t exceed the IRS-approved maximums, and the employee provides simplified substantiation, the reimbursement isn’t subject to income- or payroll-tax withholding and isn’t reported on the employee’s Form W-2. Instead of using actual per-diems, employers may use a simplified “high-low” per-diem, under which there is one uniform per-diem rate for all “high-cost” areas within the continental U.S. (CONUS), and another per-diem rate for all other areas within CONUS. The IRS released the “high-low” simplified per-diem rates for post-Sept. 30, 2018, travel. Under the optional high-low method for post-Sept. 30, 2018 travel, the high-cost-area per diem is $287 (up from $284), consisting of $216 for lodging and $71 for M&IE. The per-diem for all other localities is $195 (up from $191), consisting of $135 for lodging and $60 for M&IE.

Now’s the time to review your business expenses

As we approach the end of the year, it’s a good idea to review your business’s expenses for deductibility. At the same time, consider whether your business would benefit from accelerating certain expenses into this year.

Be sure to evaluate the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which reduces or eliminates many deductions. In some cases, it may be necessary or desirable to change your expense and reimbursement policies.

What’s deductible, anyway?

There’s no master list of deductible business expenses in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). Although some deductions are expressly authorized or excluded, most are governed by the general rule of IRC Sec. 162, which permits businesses to deduct their “ordinary and necessary” expenses.

An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your industry. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and appropriate for your business. (It need not be indispensable.) Even if an expense is ordinary and necessary, it may not be deductible if the IRS considers it lavish or extravagant.

What did the TCJA change?

The TCJA contains many provisions that affect the deductibility of business expenses. Significant changes include these deductions:

Meals and entertainment. The act eliminates most deductions for entertainment expenses, but retains the 50% deduction for business meals. What about business meals provided in connection with nondeductible entertainment? In a recent notice, the IRS clarified that such meals continue to be 50% deductible, provided they’re purchased separately from the entertainment or their cost is separately stated on invoices or receipts.

Transportation. The act eliminates most deductions for qualified transportation fringe benefits, such as parking, vanpooling and transit passes. This change may lead some employers to discontinue these benefits, although others will continue to provide them because 1) they’re a valuable employee benefit (they’re still tax-free to employees) or 2) they’re required by local law.

Employee expenses. The act suspends employee deductions for unreimbursed job expenses — previously treated as miscellaneous itemized deductions — through 2025. Some businesses may want to implement a reimbursement plan for these expenses. So long as the plan meets IRS requirements, reimbursements are deductible by the business and tax-free to employees.

Need help?

The deductibility of certain expenses, such as employee wages or office supplies, is obvious. In other cases, it may be necessary to consult IRS rulings or court cases for guidance.

For questions about tax deductions specific to your business, give Launch Consulting a call today.

Be sure your employee travel expense reimbursements will pass muster with the IRS

Does your business reimburse employees’ work-related travel expenses? If you do, you know that it can help you attract and retain employees. If you don’t, you might want to start, because changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) make such reimbursements even more attractive to employees. Travel reimbursements also come with tax benefits, but only if you follow a method that passes muster with the IRS.

Read more

Business deductions for meal, vehicle and travel expenses: Document, document, document

Meal, vehicle and travel expenses are common deductions for businesses. But if you don’t properly document these expenses, you could find your deductions denied by the IRS.

A critical requirement

Subject to various rules and limits, business meal (generally 50%), vehicle and travel expenses may be deductible, whether you pay for the expenses directly or reimburse employees for them. Deductibility depends on a variety of factors, but generally the expenses must be “ordinary and necessary” and directly related to the business.

Proper documentation, however, is one of the most critical requirements. And all too often, when the IRS scrutinizes these deductions, taxpayers don’t have the necessary documentation.

What you need to do

Following some simple steps can help ensure you have documentation that will pass muster with the IRS:

Keep receipts or similar documentation. You generally must have receipts, canceled checks or bills that show amounts and dates of business expenses. If you’re deducting vehicle expenses using the standard mileage rate (54.5 cents for 2018), log business miles driven.

Track business purposes. Be sure to record the business purpose of each expense. This is especially important if on the surface an expense could appear to be a personal one. If the business purpose of an expense is clear from the surrounding circumstances, the IRS might not require a written explanation — but it’s probably better to err on the side of caution and document the business purpose anyway.

Require employees to comply. If you reimburse employees for expenses, make sure they provide you with proper documentation. Also be aware that the reimbursements will be treated as taxable compensation to the employee (and subject to income tax and FICA withholding) unless you make them via an “accountable plan.”

Don’t re-create expense logs at year end or when you receive an IRS deficiency notice. Take a moment to record the details in a log or diary at the time of the event or soon after. The IRS considers timely kept records more reliable, plus it’s easier to track expenses as you go than try to re-create a log later. For expense reimbursements, require employees to submit monthly expense reports (which is also generally a requirement for an accountable plan).

Addressing uncertainty

You’ve probably heard that, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, entertainment expenses are no longer deductible. There’s some debate as to whether this includes business meals with actual or prospective clients. Until there’s more certainty on that issue, it’s a good idea to document these expenses. That way you’ll have what you need to deduct them if Congress or the IRS provides clarification that these expenses are indeed still deductible.

For more information about what meal, vehicle and travel expenses are and aren’t deductible — and how to properly document deductible expenses — please contact us.

Third Quarter Tax Updates

Interested in what’s happened over the last three months this year?

I’ve summarized the key tax developments that may affect you, your family, your investments, and your livelihood.

President Trump reveals tax reform plan. The Trump Administration and select members of Congress have released a “unified framework” for tax reform. This documents details a number of tax reformation changes but leaves many specifics unaddressed.

Provisions that would impact individuals include:

  • A standard deduction increase to $24,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly, and $12,000 for single filers;
  • Elimination of the personal exemption
  • A reduction in the number of tax brackets from seven to three: 12%, 25%, and 35%;
  • An increase of the child tax credit;
  • Repeal the individual alternative minimum tax;
  • Largely eliminate itemized deductions, but retain the home mortgage interest and charitable contribution deductions; and
  • Repeal both the estate tax and the generation-skipping transfer tax

Plan provisions affecting businesses would:

  • Applying a maximum 25% tax rate for “small” and family-owned businesses conducted as sole proprietorships, partnerships and S corporations;
  • A reduction in the corporate tax rate to 20% (down from the current top rate of 35%);
  • Provisions for full expensing for five years;
  • Partial limitation of the net interest expense deduction for C corporations;
  • Repeal most deductions and credits, but retain the research and low-income housing credits;
  • Provide a 100% exemption for dividends from foreign subsidiaries; and
  • Tax the foreign profits of U.S. multinational corporations at a reduced rate and on a global basis.

 

For more information on other key tax updates and how they may impact you, feel free to contact our office.

What Is The True Cost Of An Early Withdrawal From Your 401(k)?

Tapping into your 401(k) as if it were a rainy day fund should always be a last resort. Many individuals are not aware of the negative tax implications of an early withdrawal from a retirement account. Before we go more in-depth, here are the key take-aways:

  • Borrowing or taking early withdrawals from your 401(k) can result in large tax burdens in addition to tax penalties
  • While exceptions exist, the most common withdrawals (education or buying a home) are still subject to tax penalties
  • If you borrow from a 401(k), loan funds will not grow in value and will automatically be converted to a withdrawal if you leave your employer, voluntarily or involuntary, while the loan is still outstanding.

401(k) Penalties

The penalties for early withdrawals from your 401(k) are assessed at a flat 10% rate on the total distribution. So, if you take a $50,000 distribution from your 401(k) before reaching 59 ½ years of age, you will owe a penalty of $5,000 before even paying any federal income tax on this amount. Remember, most 401(k) contributions are pre-tax deferrals, meaning you receive a deduction in the year you contribute, but you eventually pay tax on the withdrawals and earnings when you retire – hopefully in a lower tax bracket.

Exceptions to the Rules

There are exceptions to the 10% early withdrawal penalty mentioned above, but they are typically rare situations. Distributions made because of total and permanent disability and distributions made to cover medical expense that are deductible and exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income whether or not you itemize your deductions for the year. All exceptions can be found here.

401(k) Loans

Many employers and plan administrators offer the opportunity to borrow funds from your 401(k). Loans from your 401(k) can have some upside, such as low interest rates and not showing on your credit report, but there are also some downsides. Borrowed funds do not participate in the market or growth of your retirement account.

Quite possibly the biggest risk with loans is the immediate payback clause if you are laid off, quit, or are terminated as an employee. If you do not payback the full amount of the outstanding loan, the outstanding balance will be considered a distribution and no further repayment would be required. Not only does this subject you to the 10% early withdrawal penalty, but the withdrawal will be fully taxable at your marginal rate. Since this would be considered income, it can catapult you into a higher tax bracket, resulting in higher taxes on all your income.

Here’s a brief example of how this might look. Let’s say you are a married taxpayer with W-2 income of $150k. Based on 2017 estimated tax brackets, you would be in the 25% tax bracket. If you had a $50k loan from your 401(k) and were unexpectedly laid off, you would have to pay that loan back immediately. If you couldn’t afford to pay this loan back immediately, that $50k would become taxable in 2017, pushing you into the 28% bracket. The tax on that $50k distribution is now $14k PLUS the early withdrawal penalty of $5k, costing you a total of $19k. To summarize, a $50k early withdrawal would only leave you with $31,000!

Reminder: Donations this Giving Tuesday May Help Reduce Tax Bills

This Giving Tuesday, remember that donations to eligible organizations, cash or non-cash, are tax deductible and may reduce your tax liability come spring filing season.

Are you eligible to claim charitable donations on your taxes? Only taxpayers who itemize using Form 1040, Schedule A can claim deductions for charitable contributions. You will most likely be a Schedule A filer if you pay for items such as mortgage interest, property taxes, state & local taxes, and charitable contributions that in total, exceed the current year standard deduction. If your itemized deductions exceed this standard deduction for the tax year, you will likely receive a benefit from charitable contributions.

For example, in 2016 the standard deduction for married filing joint taxpayers is $12,600. If the total of your mortgage interest, property taxes, and charitable contributions is in excess of the standard deduction ($12,600), you are an itemized taxpayer.

Is the organization your are contributing to an eligible entity? You can check for eligible entities on the IRS website using their “Select Check” tool. Note that newer organizations may not be listed on the IRS website yet and churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, and government agencies are eligible to receive deductible donations even if they are not listed in the IRS database.

Lastly, be sure to document your contributions with bank statements or canceled checks. If you contribution is greater than $250, ask the receiving organization for a written statement or letter acknowledging your contribution.

Year-End Tax Moves – Speculating on President-Elect Trump’s Tax Cuts

President-Elect Trump declared in several interviews that lowering taxes is one of his top priorities. Those that are betting on him delivering this promise and passing reformation through a Republican controlled congress should consider deferring income to 2017 in an effort to take advantage of the possibility of lower tax rates.

The Trump tax plan, features only three brackets, down from the current seven, and reduces the maximum tax rate of 39.6% to 33%. The standard strategy for year-end planning has always been to defer income, wherever possible, into the coming year. Here are some ways to achieve this goal, and speculate on the possibility for change:

  1. An employee who believes a bonus may be coming his way may be able to request that his employer delay payment of any bonus until early in the following year. For example, if a bonus would normally be paid on Dec. 15, 2016, an employee may ask the employer before Dec. 15 to defer any bonus coming his way until Jan. 2, 2017. If the employee is successful in deferring the bonus, they will succeed in having it taxed in 2017 as opposed to 2016. But note that if an employee waits until a bonus is due and payable to request a deferral, the tax on the bonus will not be deferred.
  2. Income that a cash basis taxpayer earns by rendering services isn’t taxed until the client, patient, or customer pays. If the taxpayer holds off billing until next year, or bills late enough in the year that no payment can be received in 2016, income will not become taxable until next year.
  3. Defer a traditional IRA-to-Roth IRA conversion until 2017. Conversions are generally subject to tax as if it were distributed from the traditional IRA or qualified plan and not re-contributed to another IRA. A taxpayer who plans to make such a conversion should defer doing so if he believes the conversion will face a lower tax next year.
  4. Defer Property sales. The President-elect’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) also would repeal the 3.8% surtax on net investment income. It may also be in best interest to set up an installment sale and recognize income over multiple tax periods.
  5. Trump’s tax plan also aims to increase the standard deduction ($30,000 for joint filers, up from the $12,600 allowed in 2016). Since most taxpayers may not receive the benefit for itemizing property taxes, mortgage interest, and charitable contributions under the proposed increased deduction, it may be wise to accelerate these expenses before year-end 2016. For example, property taxes may be due in January 2017 for the 2016 period, you can opt to pay early, prior to December 31, 2016, and accelerate this deduction.

While President-Elect Trump’s proposal has been listed as one of his top priorities, there is no telling what portions of this plan will ever make it into law. The five planning techniques above are just examples of scenarios that could reduce your overall tax burden in the event Mr. Trump follows through with his proposal.

 

When to File? Important Changes to Due Dates and more

As the 2016 tax year winds down, there is no better time than now to get your finances in order. Let’s face it, the last thing you want to think about during the holiday season is taxes. I compiled a list of the deadlines to follow after year-end. Please note that legislation during the year changed the due dates for many common forms. Below is a summary:

Individual Due Dates:

  • Individual Form 1040 – April 15th (no change)
  • FinCEN Form 114 (FBAR) – April 15th (previously due June 30th)

Business Due Dates:

  • Partnership Form 1065 – March 15th (previously due April 15th)
  • S-Corporation Form 1120S – March 15th (no change)
  • C-Corporation Form 1120 (calendar year) –  April 15th (previously March 15th)
  • Forms W-2 – January 31 (previously February 28 & March 31 if electronically filed)
  • Forms 1099-MISC – January 31* (previously February 28 & March 31 if electronically filed)

*This new due date is only for Forms 1099-MISC using Box 7 to report non-employee compensation.

For a complete list of all updated due dates, including Trust and Estate Forms 1041, and Form 990 for Exempt Organizations, the AICPA has compiled the changes into a PDF table.