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November 2018

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Any accounting, business or tax advice contained in this communication, including attachments and enclosures, is not intended as a thorough, in-depth analysis of specific issues, nor a substitute for a formal opinion, nor is it sufficient to avoid tax-related penalties. If desired, we would be pleased to perform the requisite research and provide you with a detailed written analysis. Such an engagement may be the subject of a separate engagement letter that would define the scope and limits of the desired consultation services.


Year-End Tax Planning for Individuals

Once again, tax planning for the year ahead presents a number of challenges, this year, primarily due to tax laws changes brought about the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2018. These changes include the nearly doubling of the standard deduction, elimination of personal exemptions, and numerous itemized deductions reduced or eliminated. Let's take a closer look.

General Tax Planning

General tax planning strategies for individuals this year include postponing income and accelerating deductions, as well as careful consideration of timing related investments, charitable gifts, and retirement planning. For example, taxpayers might consider using one or more of the following:

  • Selling any investments on which you have a gain or loss this year. For more on this, see Investment Gains and Losses, below.
  • If you anticipate an increase in taxable income this year, in 2018, and are expecting a bonus at year-end, try to get it before December 31. Keep in mind, however, that contractual bonuses are different, in that they are typically not paid out until the first quarter of the following year. Therefore, any taxes owed on a contractual bonus would not be due until you file your 2019 tax return in 2020. Don't hesitate to call the office if you have any questions about this.
  • Prepaying deductible expenses this year using a credit card. Examples of deductible expenses include charitable contributions and medical expenses. This strategy works because deductions may be taken based on when the expense was charged on the credit card, not when the bill was paid. Likewise with checks. For example, if you charge a medical expense in December but pay the bill in January, assuming it's an eligible medical expense, it can be taken as a deduction on your 2018 tax return.
  • If your company grants stock options, then you may want to exercise the option or sell stock acquired by exercise of an option this year. Use this strategy if you think your tax bracket will be higher in 2019. Generally, exercising this option is a taxable event; sale of the stock is almost always a taxable event.
  • If you're self-employed, send invoices or bills to clients or customers this year to be paid in full by the end of December.

Caution: Keep an eye on the estimated tax requirements.

Accelerating Income and Deductions

Accelerating income and deductions are two strategies that are commonly used to help taxpayers minimize their tax liability. Most taxpayers anticipate increased earnings from year to year, whether it’s from a job or investments, so this strategy works well. On the flip side, however, if you anticipate a lower income next year or know you will have significant medical bills, you might want to consider deferring income and expenses to the following year.

Accelerating Income

If you anticipate being in a higher tax bracket next year, accelerating income into 2018 is a good idea, especially for taxpayers whose earnings are close to threshold amounts ($200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for married filing jointly) that make them liable for additional Medicare Tax or Net Investment Income Tax (see below).

Caution: Taxpayers close to threshold amounts for the Net Investment Income Tax (3.8 percent of net investment income) should pay close attention to "one-time" income spikes such as those associated with Roth conversions, sale of a home or other large assets that may be subject to tax.

Tip: If you know you have a set amount of income coming in this year that is not covered by withholding taxes, there is still time to increase your withholding before year-end and avoid or reduce any estimated tax penalty that might otherwise be due. On the other hand, the penalty could be avoided by covering the extra tax in your final estimated tax payment and computing the penalty using the annualized income method.

In cases where tax benefits are phased out over a certain adjusted gross income (AGI) amount, a strategy of accelerating income and deductions might allow you to claim larger deductions, credits, and other tax breaks for 2018, depending on your situation. Roth IRA contributions, conversions of regular IRAs to Roth IRAs, child tax credits, higher education tax credits, and deductions for student loan interest are examples of these types of tax benefits.

Examples of other strategies a taxpayer might take include:

  • Pay a state estimated tax installment in December instead of at the January due date. However, make sure the payment is based on a reasonable estimate of your state tax.

  • Pay your entire property tax bill, including installments due in year 2019, by year-end. This does not apply to mortgage escrow accounts.

  • Pay 2019 tuition in 2018 to take full advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, an above-the-line credit worth up to $2,500 per student to cover the cost of tuition, fees and course materials paid during the taxable year. Forty percent of the credit (up to $1,000) is refundable, which means you can get it even if you owe no tax.

  • Try to bunch medical expenses. For example, you might pay medical bills in whichever year they would do you the most tax good. Medical expenses are deductible only to the extent they exceed a certain percentage of adjusted gross income (AGI). For example, to deduct medical and dental expenses these amounts must exceed 7.5 percent of AGI. By bunching these expenses into one year, rather than spreading them out over two years, you have a better chance of exceeding the thresholds, thereby maximizing your deduction.

    Note: The 7.5 percent threshold is only in effect for tax years 2017 and 2018. In 2019, it reverts to 10 percent AGI.

Additional Medicare Tax

Taxpayers whose income exceeds certain threshold amounts ($200,000 single filers and $250,000 married filing jointly) are liable for an additional Medicare tax of 0.9 percent on their tax returns, but may request that their employers withhold additional income tax from their pay to be applied against their tax liability when filing their 2018 tax return next April.

High net worth individuals should consider contributing to Roth IRAs and 401(k) because distributions are not subject to the Medicare Tax.

If you're a taxpayer close to the threshold for the Medicare Tax, it might make sense to switch Roth retirement contributions to a traditional IRA plan, thereby avoiding the 3.8 percent Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) as well (more about the NIIT below).

Alternate Minimum Tax

The alternative minimum tax (AMT) applies to high-income taxpayers that take advantage of deductions and credits to reduce their taxable income. The AMT ensures that those taxpayers pay at least a minimum amount of tax and was made permanent under the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) of 2012.

Although the AMT remained under the TCJA exemption amounts increased significantly. As such, the AMT is not expected to affect as many taxpayers. Furthermore, the phaseout threshold increases to $500,000 ($1 million for married filing jointly). Both the exemption and threshold amounts are indexed for inflation.

Note: AMT exemption amounts for 2018 are as follows:

  • $70,300 for single and head of household filers,

  • $109,400 for married people filing jointly and for qualifying widows or widowers,

  • $54,700 for married people filing separately.

Charitable Contributions

Property, as well as money, can be donated to a charity. You can generally take a deduction for the fair market value of the property; however, for certain property, the deduction is limited to your cost basis. While you can also donate your services to charity, you may not deduct the value of these services. You may also be able to deduct charity-related travel expenses and some out-of-pocket expenses, however.

Keep in mind that a written record of your charitable contributions--including travel expenses such as mileage--is required in order to qualify for a deduction. A donor may not claim a deduction for any contribution of cash, a check or other monetary gift unless the donor maintains a record of the contribution in the form of either a bank record (such as a canceled check) or written communication from the charity (such as a receipt or a letter) showing the name of the charity, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.

Tip: Contributions of appreciated property (i.e. stock) provide an additional benefit because you avoid paying capital gains on any profit.

Taxpayers age 70 ½ or older can reduce income tax owed on required minimum distributions (RMDs) from IRA accounts by donating them to a charitable organization(s) instead.

Investment Gains and Losses

This year, and in the coming years, investment decisions are often more about managing capital gains than about minimizing taxes per se. For example, taxpayers below threshold amounts in 2018 might want to take gains; whereas taxpayers above threshold amounts might want to take losses.

Caution: Fluctuations in the stock market are commonplace; don't assume that a down market means investment losses as your cost basis may be low if you've held the stock for a long time.

Minimize taxes on investments by judicious matching of gains and losses. Where appropriate, try to avoid short-term capital gains, which are taxed as ordinary income (i.e., the rate is the same as your tax bracket).

In 2018 tax rates on capital gains and dividends remain the same as 2017 rates (0%, 15%, and a top rate of 20%); however, due to tax reform, threshold amounts do not correspond to the new tax bracket structure as in prior years:

  • 0% - Maximum capital gains tax rate for taxpayers with income up to $38,600 for single filers, $77,200 for married filing jointly.
  • 15% - Maximum capital gains tax rate for taxpayers with income above $38,600 for single filers, $77,200 for married filing jointly.
  • 20% - Maximum capital gains tax rate for taxpayers with income above $425,800 for single filers, $479,000 for married filing jointly.

Where feasible, reduce all capital gains and generate short-term capital losses up to $3,000. As a general rule, if you have a large capital gain this year, consider selling an investment on which you have an accumulated loss. Capital losses up to the amount of your capital gains plus $3,000 per year ($1,500 if married filing separately) can be claimed as a deduction against income.

Wash Sale Rule. After selling a securities investment to generate a capital loss, you can repurchase it after 30 days. This is known as the "Wash Rule Sale." If you buy it back within 30 days, the loss will be disallowed. Or you can immediately repurchase a similar (but not the same) investment, e.g., and ETF or another mutual fund with the same objectives as the one you sold.

Tip: If you have losses, you might consider selling securities at a gain and then immediately repurchasing them, since the 30-day rule does not apply to gains. That way, your gain will be tax-free; your original investment is restored, and you have a higher cost basis for your new investment (i.e., any future gain will be lower).

Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT)

The Net Investment Income Tax, which went into effect in 2013, is a 3.8 percent tax that is applied to investment income such as long-term capital gains for earners above certain threshold amounts ($200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly). Short-term capital gains are subject to ordinary income tax rates as well as the 3.8 percent NIIT. This information is something to think about as you plan your long-term investments. Business income is not considered subject to the NIIT provided the individual business owner materially participates in the business.

Please call if you need assistance with any of your long-term tax planning goals.

Mutual Fund Investments

Before investing in a mutual fund, ask whether a dividend is paid at the end of the year or whether a dividend will be paid early in the next year but be deemed paid this year. The year-end dividend could make a substantial difference in the tax you pay.

Example: You invest $20,000 in a mutual fund in 2018. You opt for automatic reinvestment of dividends, and in late December of 2018, the fund pays a $1,000 dividend on the shares you bought. The $1,000 is automatically reinvested.

Result: You must pay tax on the $1,000 dividend. You will have to take funds from another source to pay that tax because of the automatic reinvestment feature. The mutual fund's long-term capital gains pass through to you as capital gains dividends taxed at long-term rates, however long or short your holding period.

The mutual fund's distributions to you of dividends it receives generally qualify for the same tax relief as long-term capital gains. If the mutual fund passes through its short-term capital gains, these will be reported to you as "ordinary dividends" that don't qualify for relief.

Depending on your financial circumstances, it may or may not be a good idea to buy shares right before the fund goes ex-dividend. For instance, the distribution could be relatively small, with only minor tax consequences. Or the market could be moving up, with share prices expected to be higher after the ex-dividend date. To find out a fund's ex-dividend date, call the fund directly.

Please call if you'd like more information on how dividends paid out by mutual funds affect your taxes this year and next.

Year-End Giving To Reduce Your Potential Estate Tax

The federal gift and estate tax exemption is currently set at $11.18 million but is projected to increase to $11.4 million in 2019. ATRA set the maximum estate tax rate set at 40 percent.

Gift Tax. Sound estate planning often begins with lifetime gifts to family members. In other words, gifts that reduce the donor's assets subject to future estate tax. Such gifts are often made at year-end, during the holiday season, in ways that qualify for exemption from federal gift tax.

Gifts to a donee are exempt from the gift tax for amounts up to $15,000 a year per donee in 2018 and are expected to remain the same in 2019.

Caution: An unused annual exemption doesn't carry over to later years. To make use of the exemption for 2018, you must make your gift by December 31.

Husband-wife joint gifts to any third person are exempt from gift tax for amounts up to $30,000 ($15,000 each). Though what's given may come from either you or your spouse or both of you, both of you must consent to such "split gifts."

Gifts of "future interests," assets that the donee can only enjoy at some future time such as certain gifts in trust, generally don't qualify for exemption; however, gifts for the benefit of a minor child can be made to qualify.

Tip: If you're considering adopting a plan of lifetime giving to reduce future estate tax, don't hesitate to call the office for assistance.

Cash or publicly traded securities raise the fewest problems. You may choose to give property you expect to increase substantially in value later. Shifting future appreciation to your heirs keeps that value out of your estate. But this can trigger IRS questions about the gift's true value when given.

You may choose to give property that has already appreciated. The idea here is that the donee, not you, will realize and pay income tax on future earnings and built-in gain on sale.

Gift tax returns for 2018 are due the same date as your income tax return (April 15, 2019). Returns are required for gifts over $15,000 (including husband-wife split gifts totaling more than $15,000) and gifts of future interests. Though you are not required to file if your gifts do not exceed $15,000, you might consider filing anyway as a tactical move to block a future IRS challenge about gifts not "adequately disclosed." Please call the office if you're considering making a gift of property whose value isn't unquestionably less than $15,000.

New Tax Rate Structure for the Kiddie Tax

Under the TCJA, the kiddie tax rules have changed. For tax years 2018 through 2025, unearned income exceeding $2,100 is taxed at the rates paid by trusts and estates. For ordinary income (amounts over $12,501), the maximum rate is 37 percent. For long-term capital gains and qualified dividends, the maximum rate is 20 percent.

Other Year-End Moves

Maximize Retirement Plan Contributions. If you own an incorporated or unincorporated business, consider setting up a retirement plan if you don't already have one. It doesn't actually need to be funded until you pay your taxes, but allowable contributions will be deductible on this year's return.

If you are an employee and your employer has a 401(k), contribute the maximum amount ($18,500 for 2018), plus an additional catch-up contribution of $6,000 if age 50 or over, assuming the plan allows this and income restrictions don't apply.

If you are employed or self-employed with no retirement plan, you can make a deductible contribution of up to $5,500 a year to a traditional IRA (deduction is sometimes allowed even if you have a plan). Further, there is also an additional catch-up contribution of $1,000 if age 50 or over.

Health Savings Accounts. Consider setting up a health savings account (HSA). You can deduct contributions to the account, investment earnings are tax-deferred until withdrawn, and amounts you withdraw are tax-free when used to pay medical bills.

In effect, medical expenses paid from the account are deductible from the first dollar (unlike the usual rule limiting such deductions to the amount of excess over 7.5 percent of AGI). For amounts withdrawn at age 65 or later that are not used for medical bills, the HSA functions much like an IRA.

To be eligible, you must have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), and only such insurance, subject to numerous exceptions, and must not be enrolled in Medicare. For 2018, to qualify for the HSA, your minimum deductible in your HDHP must be at least $1,350 for single coverage or $2,700 for a family.

529 Education Plans. Maximize contributions to 529 plans, which starting in 2018, can be used for elementary and secondary school tuition as well as college or vocational school.

Summary

These are just a few of the steps you might take. Please contact the office for assistance with implementing these and other year-end planning strategies that might be suitable for your particular situation.

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Year-End Tax Planning for Businesses

There are a number of end of year tax planning strategies that businesses can use to reduce their tax burden for 2018. Here are a few of them:

Deferring Income

Businesses using the cash method of accounting can defer income into 2019 by delaying end-of-year invoices, so payment is not received until 2019. Businesses using the accrual method can defer income by postponing delivery of goods or services until January 2019.

Purchase New Business Equipment

Section 179 Expensing. Business should take advantage of Section 179 expensing this year for a couple of reasons. First, is that in 2018 businesses can elect to expense (deduct immediately) the entire cost of most new equipment up to a maximum of $1 million for the first $2.5 million of property placed in service by December 31, 2018. Keep in mind that the Section 179 deduction cannot exceed net taxable business income. The deduction is phased out dollar for dollar on amounts exceeding the $2.5 million threshold and eliminated above amounts exceeding $3.5 million.

Caution: The new law removes computer or peripheral equipment from the definition of listed property. This change applies to property placed in service after December 31, 2017.

Tax reform legislation also expanded the definition of Section 179 property to allow the taxpayer to elect to include certain improvements made to nonresidential real property after the date when the property was first placed in service (see below). These changes apply to property placed in service in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017.

1. Qualified improvement property, which means any improvement to a building's interior. However, improvements do not qualify if they are attributable to:

  • the enlargement of the building,
  • any elevator or escalator or
  • the internal structural framework of the building.

2. Roofs, HVAC, fire protection systems, alarm systems and security systems.

Bonus Depreciation. Businesses are allowed to immediately deduct 100% of the cost of eligible property placed in service after September 27, 2017, and before January 1, 2023, after which it will be phased downward over a four-year period: 80% in 2023, 60% in 2024, 40% in 2025, and 20% in 2026.

Qualified Property

Qualified property is defined as property that you placed in service during the tax year and used predominantly (more than 50 percent) in your trade or business. Property that is placed in service and then disposed of in that same tax year does not qualify, nor does property converted to personal use in the same tax year it is acquired.

Note: Many states have not matched these amounts and, therefore, state tax may not allow for the maximum federal deduction. In this case, two sets of depreciation records will be needed to track the federal and state tax impact.

Please contact the office if you have any questions regarding qualified property.

If you plan to purchase business equipment this year, consider the timing. You might be able to increase your tax benefit if you buy equipment at the right time. Here's a simplified explanation:

Conventions. The tax rules for depreciation include "conventions" or rules for figuring out how many months of depreciation you can claim. There are three types of conventions. To select the correct convention, you must know the type of property and when you placed the property in service.

  1. The half-year convention: This convention applies to all property except residential rental property, nonresidential real property, and railroad gradings and tunnel bores (see mid-month convention below) unless the mid-quarter convention applies. All property that you begin using during the year is treated as "placed in service" (or "disposed of") at the midpoint of the year. This means that no matter when you begin using (or dispose of) the property, you treat it as if you began using it in the middle of the year.

  2. Example: You buy a $70,000 piece of machinery on December 15. If the half-year convention applies, you get one-half year of depreciation on that machine.

  3. The mid-quarter convention: The mid-quarter convention must be used if the cost of equipment placed in service during the last three months of the tax year is more than 40 percent of the total cost of all property placed in service for the entire year. If the mid-quarter convention applies, the half-year rule does not apply, and you treat all equipment placed in service during the year as if it were placed in service at the midpoint of the quarter in which you began using it.

  4. The mid-month convention: This convention applies only to residential rental property, nonresidential real property, and railroad gradings and tunnel bores. It treats all property placed in service (or disposed of) during any month as placed in service (or disposed of) on the midpoint of that month.

  5. If you're planning on buying equipment for your business, call the office and speak with a tax professional who can help you figure out the best time to buy that equipment and take full advantage of these tax rules.

Other Year-End Moves to Take Advantage Of

Small Business Health Care Tax Credit. Small business employers with 25 or fewer full-time-equivalent employees with average annual wages of $50,000 indexed for inflation (e.g., $52,400 in 2017) may qualify for a tax credit to help pay for employees' health insurance. The credit is 50 percent (35 percent for non-profits).

Business Energy Investment Tax Credits. Business energy investment tax credits are still available for eligible systems placed in service on or before December 31, 2022, and businesses that want to take advantage of these tax credits can still do so. Business energy credits include geothermal electric, large wind (expires 2020), and solar energy systems used to generate electricity, to heat or cool (or to provide hot water for use in) a structure, or to provide solar process heat. Hybrid solar lighting systems, which use solar energy to illuminate the inside of a structure using fiber-optic distributed sunlight, are eligible; however, passive solar and solar pool-heating systems excluded are excluded. Utilities are allowed to use the credits as well.

Repair Regulations. Where possible, end of year repairs and expenses should be deducted immediately, rather than capitalized and depreciated. Small businesses lacking applicable financial statements (AFS) are able to take advantage of de minimis safe harbor by electing to deduct smaller purchases ($2,500 or less per purchase or per invoice). Businesses with applicable financial statements are able to deduct $5,000. Small business with gross receipts of $10 million or less can also take advantage of safe harbor for repairs, maintenance, and improvements to eligible buildings. Please call if you would like more information on this topic.

Qualified Business Income Deduction. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act non-corporations) may be entitled to a deduction of up to 20 percent of their qualified business income (QBI) from a qualified trade or business for tax years 2018 through 2025. To take advantage of the deduction, taxable income must be under $157,500 ($315,000 for joint returns).

The QBI is complex, and tax planning strategies can directly affect the amount of deduction, i.e., increase or reduce the dollar amount. As such it is especially important to speak with a tax professional before year's end to determine the best way to maximize the deduction.

Depreciation Limitations on Luxury, Passenger Automobiles and Heavy Vehicles

The new law changed depreciation limits for luxury passenger vehicles placed in service after December 31, 2017. If the taxpayer doesn't claim bonus depreciation, the maximum allowable depreciation deduction is $10,000 for the first year.

For passenger autos eligible for the additional bonus first-year depreciation, the maximum first-year depreciation allowance remains at $8,000. It applies to new and used ("new to you") vehicles acquired and placed in service after September 27, 2017, and remains in effect for tax years through December 31, 2022. When combined with the increased depreciation allowance above, the deduction amounts to as much as $18,000.

Under tax reform, heavy vehicles including pickup trucks, vans, and SUVs whose gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is more than 6,000 pounds are treated as transportation equipment instead of passenger vehicles. As such, heavy vehicles (new or used) placed into service after September 27, 2017, and before January 1, 2023, qualify for a 100 percent first-year bonus depreciation deduction as well.

Note: Deductions are based on a percentage of business use; i.e., a business owner whose business use of the vehicle is 100 percent can take a larger deduction than one whose business use of a car is only 50 percent.

Retirement Plans. Self-employed individuals who have not yet done so should set up self-employed retirement plans before the end of 2018. Call today if you need help setting up a retirement plan.

Dividend Planning. Reduce accumulated corporate profits and earnings by issuing corporate dividends to shareholders.

Call a Tax Professional First

These are just a few of the year-end planning tax moves that could make a substantial difference in your tax bill for 2018. If you'd like more information, please call to schedule a consultation to discuss your specific tax and financial needs, and develop a plan that works for your business.

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Tax Benefits of Health Savings Accounts

While similar to FSAs (Flexible Savings Plans) in that both allow pre-tax contributions, Health Savings Accounts or HSAs offer taxpayers several additional tax benefits such as contributions that roll over from year to year (i.e., no "use it or lose it"), tax-free interest on earnings, and when used for qualified medical expenses, tax-free distributions.

What is a Health Savings Account?

A Health Savings Account is a type of savings account that allows you to set aside money pre-tax to pay for qualified medical expenses. Contributions that you make to a Health Savings Account (HSA) are used to pay current or future medical expenses (including after you've retired) of the account owner, his or her spouse, and any qualified dependent.

Caution: Medical expenses that are reimbursable by insurance or other sources and do not qualify for the medical expense deduction on a federal income tax return are not eligible.

Caution: Insurance premiums for taxpayers younger than age 65 are generally not considered qualified medical expenses unless the premiums are for health care continuation coverage (such as coverage under COBRA), health care coverage while receiving unemployment compensation under federal or state law.

You cannot be covered by other health insurance with the exception of insurance for accidents, disability, dental care, vision care, or long-term care and you cannot be claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax return. Spouses cannot open joint HSAs. Each spouse who is an eligible individual who wants an HSA must open a separate HSA.

An HSA can be opened through your bank or another financial institution. Contributions to an HSA must be made in cash. Contributions of stock or property are not allowed. As an employee may be able to elect to have money set aside and deposited directly into an HSA account; however, if this option is not offered by your employer, then you must wait until filing a tax return to claim the HSA contributions as a deduction.

High Deductible Health Plans.

A Health Savings Account can only be used if you have a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP). Typically, high-deductible health plans have lower monthly premiums than plans with lower deductibles, but you pay more health care costs yourself before the insurance company starts to pay its share (your deductible).

A high-deductible plan can be combined with a health savings account, allowing you to pay for certain medical expenses with tax-free money that you have set aside. By using the pre-tax funds in your HSA to pay for qualified medical expenses before you reach your deductible and other out-of-pocket costs such as copayments, you reduce your overall health care costs.

Calendar year 2018. For calendar year 2018, a qualifying HDHP must have a deductible of at least $1,350 for self-only coverage or $2,700 for family coverage. Annual out-of-pocket expenses (e.g., deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance) of the beneficiary are limited to $6,650 for self-only coverage and $13,300 for family coverage. This limit doesn't apply to deductibles and expenses for out-of-network services if the plan uses a network of providers. Instead, only deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses for services within the network should be used to figure whether the limit applies.

Last month rule. Under the last-month rule, you are considered to be an eligible individual for the entire year if you are an eligible individual on the first day of the last month of your tax year (December 1 for most taxpayers).

You can make contributions to your HSA for 2018 until April 15, 2019. Your employer can make contributions to your HSA between January 1, 2019, and April 15, 2019, that are allocated to 2018. The contribution will be reported on your 2019 Form W-2.

Summary of HSA Tax Advantages

  • Tax deductible. You can claim a tax deduction for contributions you, or someone other than your employer, make to your HSA even if you don't itemize your deductions on Schedule A (Form 1040).
  • Pre-tax dollars. Contributions to your HSA made by your employer (including contributions made through a cafeteria plan) may be excluded from your gross income.
  • Tax-free interest on earnings. Contributions remain in your account until you use them and are rolled over year after year. Any interest or other earnings on the assets in the account are tax-free. Furthermore, an HSA is "portable" and stays with you if you change employers or leave the workforce.
  • Tax-free distributions. Distributions may be tax-free if you pay qualified medical expenses.
  • Additional contributions for older workers. Employees, aged 55 years and older are able to save an additional $1,000 per year.
  • Tax-free after retirement. Distributions are tax-free at age 65 when used for qualified medical expenses including amounts used to pay Medicare Part B and Part D premiums, and long-term care insurance policy premiums. However, you cannot use money in an HSA to pay for supplemental insurance (e.g., Medigap) premiums.

If you have any questions about HSAs, help is just a phone call away.

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Making Tax Smart Loans to Family and Friends

Lending money to a cash-strapped friend or family member is a noble and generous offer that just might make a difference. But before you hand over the cash, you need to plan ahead to avoid tax complications for yourself down the road.

Take a look at this example: Let's say you decide to loan $5,000 to your daughter who's been out of work for over a year and is having difficulty keeping up with the mortgage payments on her condo. While you may be tempted to charge an interest rate of zero percent, you should resist the temptation.

Here's why:

When you make an interest-free loan to someone, you will be subject to "below-market interest rules." IRS rules state that you need to calculate imaginary interest payments from the borrower. These imaginary interest payments are then payable to you, and you will need to pay taxes on these interest payments when you file a tax return. To complicate matters further, if the imaginary interest payments exceed $15,000 for the year, there may be adverse gift and estate tax consequences.

Exception: The IRS lets you ignore the rules for small loans ($10,000 or less), as long as the aggregate loan amounts to a single borrower are less than $10,000, and the borrower doesn't use the loan proceeds to buy or carry income-producing assets.

As was mentioned above, if you don't charge any interest, or charge interest that is below market rate (more on this below), then the IRS might consider your loan a gift, especially if there is no formal documentation (i.e., written agreement with payment schedule), and you go to make a nonbusiness bad debt deduction if the borrower defaults on the loan--or the IRS decides to audit you and decides your loan is really a gift.

Formal documentation generally refers to a written promissory note that includes the interest rate, a repayment schedule showing dates and amounts for all principal and interest, and security or collateral for the loan, such as a residence (see below). Make sure that all parties sign the note so that it's legally binding.

As long as you charge an interest rate that is at least equal to the applicable federal rate (AFR) approved by the Internal Revenue Service, you can avoid tax complications and unfavorable tax consequences.

AFRs for term loans, that is, loans with a defined repayment schedule, are updated monthly by the IRS and published in the IRS Bulletin. AFRs are based on the bond market, which changes frequently. For term loans, use the AFR published in the same month that you make the loan. The AFR is a fixed rate for the duration of the loan.

Any interest income that you make from the term loan is included on your Form 1040. In general, the borrower, who in this example is your daughter, cannot deduct interest paid, but there is one exception: if the loan is secured by her home, then the interest can be deducted as qualified residence interest--as long as the promissory note for the loan was secured by the residence.

If you have any questions about the tax implications of loaning a friend or family member money, please contact the office.

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Section 199A: Qualified Business Income Deduction

Thanks to tax reform legislation passed in December 2017, eligible taxpayers may now deduct up to 20 percent of certain business income from qualified domestic businesses, as well as certain dividends. Eligible taxpayers can claim the deduction for the first time on the 2018 federal income tax return they file in 2019.

Note: Although the final regulations have not yet been published in the Federal Register, taxpayers who wish to become familiar with the rules may review the proposed regulations issued by visiting the IRS website or calling the office.

The Qualified Business Income Deduction (QBID) often referred to as the 20 percent deduction for pass-through entities, is also known as the Section 199A deduction as it is named after Section 199A of the Internal Revenue Code.

Here are six key facts about the qualified business income deduction:

1. The deduction applies to qualified business income from a qualified business (i.e. pass-through entities) such as:

  • a sole proprietorship
  • S-corporation
  • Partnership
  • LLC treated as a sole proprietorship or partnership for tax purposes
  • Non-corporate taxpayers such as trusts and estates
  • REITs
  • Publicly traded partnerships

2. Qualified business income is the net amount of qualified items of income, gain, deduction, and loss connected to a qualified U.S. trade or business. Only items included in taxable income are counted. Qualified business income does not include income from performing services as an employee. Capital gains and losses, shareholders wages, certain dividends, and interest income are excluded as well.

3. The deduction is available to eligible taxpayers, whether they itemize their deductions on Schedule A or take the standard deduction.

The deduction can be taken in addition to the standard or itemized deductions and is subject to limitations based on the type of trade or business, the taxpayer's taxable income, the amount of W-2 wages paid with respect to the qualified trade or business, and the unadjusted basis of qualified property held by the trade or business.

4. The deduction is generally equal to the lesser of these two amounts:

  • Twenty percent of qualified business income plus 20 percent of qualified real estate investment trust dividends and qualified publicly traded partnership income.
  • Twenty percent of taxable income computed before the qualified business income deduction minus net capital gains.

5. For taxpayers with taxable income computed before the qualified business income deduction that exceeds $315,000 for a married couple filing a joint return, or $157,500 for all other taxpayers, the deduction may be subject to additional limitations or exceptions. These are based on the type of trade or business (see below), the taxpayer's taxable income, the amount of W-2 wages paid by the qualified trade or business, and the unadjusted basis immediately after acquisition of qualified property held by the trade or business.

6. Income earned through a C corporation is not eligible for the deduction.

7. Qualified Trade or Business. A qualified trade or business is any trade or business except one 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 exclusion only applies, however, if a taxpayer's taxable income exceeds $315,000 for a married couple filing a joint return, or $157,500 for all other taxpayers.

While relatively straightforward for most businesses, those with more complicated tax structures or multiple businesses or trades, consulting a tax professional is advised. As always, don't hesitate to call if you have any questions.

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Business Expense Deductions for Meals, Entertainment

As the end of year approaches, taxpayers should be reminded that business expense deduction for meals and entertainment have changed due to tax law changes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Until proposed regulations clarifying when business meal expenses are deductible and what constitutes entertainment are in effect, taxpayers should rely on transitional guidance that was recently issued by the IRS.

Prior to 2018, a business could deduct up to 50 percent of entertainment expenses directly related to the active conduct of a trade or business or, if incurred immediately before or after a bona fide business discussion, associated with the active conduct of a trade or business. However, the 2017 TCJA eliminated the deduction for any expenses related to activities generally considered entertainment, amusement or recreation.

Taxpayers may continue to deduct 50 percent of the cost of business meals if the taxpayer (or an employee of the taxpayer) is present and the food or beverages are not considered lavish or extravagant. The meals may be provided to a current or potential business customer, client, consultant or similar business contact.

Please note that food and beverages that are provided during entertainment events will not be considered entertainment if purchased separately from the event.

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Understanding the Gift Tax

If you gave money or property to someone as a gift, you might owe federal gift tax. Many gifts are not subject to the gift tax, but there are exceptions. Here are eight tips you can use to figure out whether your gift is taxable.

1. Most gifts are not subject to the gift tax. For example, there is usually no tax if you make a gift to your spouse or to a charity. If you make a gift to someone else, the gift tax usually does not apply until the value of the gifts you give that person exceeds the annual exclusion for the year. For 2018 the annual exclusion is $15,000 (up from $14,000 in 2017).

2. Gift tax returns do not need to be filed unless you give someone, other than your spouse, money or property worth more than the annual exclusion for that year.

3. Generally, the person who receives your gift will not have to pay any federal gift tax because of it. Also, that person will not have to pay income tax on the value of the gift received.

4. Making a gift does not ordinarily affect your federal income tax. You cannot deduct the value of gifts you make (other than deductible charitable contributions).

5. The general rule is that any gift is a taxable gift. However, there are many exceptions to this rule. The following gifts are not taxable gifts:

  • Gifts that are do not exceed the annual exclusion for the calendar year,
  • Tuition or medical expenses you pay directly to a medical or educational institution for someone,
  • Gifts to your spouse,
  • Gifts to a political organization for its use, and
  • Gifts to charities.

6. You and your spouse can make a gift up to $30,000 to a third party without making a taxable gift. The gift can be considered as made one-half by you and one-half by your spouse. If you split a gift you made, you must file a gift tax return to show that you and your spouse agree to use gift splitting. You must file a Form 709, United States Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return, even if half of the split gift is less than the annual exclusion.

7. You must file a gift tax return on Form 709 if any of the following apply:

  • You gave gifts to at least one person (other than your spouse) that are more than the annual exclusion for the year.
  • You and your spouse are splitting a gift.
  • You gave someone (other than your spouse) a gift of a future interest that he or she cannot actually possess, enjoy, or receive income from until some time in the future.
  • You gave your spouse an interest in property that will terminate due to a future event.

8. You do not have to file a gift tax return to report gifts to political organizations and gifts made by paying someone's tuition or medical expenses.

Questions about the gift tax? Don't hesitate to call.

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The Health Care Law and Hiring Seasonal Workers

Businesses often need to hire workers on a seasonal or part-time basis. For example, some businesses may need seasonal help for holidays, harvest seasons, commercial fishing, or sporting events. Whether you are getting paid or paying someone else, questions often arise over whether these seasonal workers affect employers with regard to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

For the purposes of the Affordable Care Act the size of an employer is determined by the number of employees. As such, employer-offered benefits, opportunities, and requirements are dependent upon your organization's size and the applicable rules. For instance, if you have at least 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees, on average during the prior year, you are an ALE (Applicable Large Employer) for the current calendar year.

If you hire seasonal or holiday workers, you should know how these employees are counted under the health care law:

Seasonal worker. A seasonal worker is generally defined for this purpose as an employee who performs labor or services on a seasonal basis, generally for not more than four months (or 120 days). Retail workers employed exclusively during holiday seasons, for example, are seasonal workers.

Seasonal employee. In contrast, a seasonal employee is an employee who is hired into a position for which the customary annual employment is six months or less, where the term "customary employment" refers to an employee who typically works each calendar year in approximately the same part of the year, such as summer or winter.

The terms seasonal worker and seasonal employee are both used in the employer shared responsibility provisions but in two different contexts. Only the term seasonal worker is relevant for determining whether an employer is an applicable large employer subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions; however, there is an exception for seasonal workers:

Exception: If your workforce exceeds 50 full-time employees for 120 days or fewer during a calendar year, and the employees in excess of 50 during that period were seasonal workers, your organization is not considered an ALE.

For additional information on hiring seasonal workers and how it affects the employer shared responsibility provisions please call.

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Deferred Tax on Gains from Forced Sales of Livestock

Farmers and ranchers who were forced to sell livestock due to drought may get extra time to replace the livestock and defer tax on any gains from the forced sales. Here are some facts about this to help farmers understand how the deferral works and if they are eligible.

1. The one-year extension gives eligible farmers and ranchers until the end of the tax year after the first drought-free year to replace the sold livestock.

2. The farmer or rancher must be in an applicable region. An applicable region is a county designated as eligible for federal assistance, as well as counties contiguous to that county.

3. The farmer’s county, parish, city or district included in the applicable region must be listed as suffering exceptional, extreme or severe drought conditions by the National Drought Mitigation Center. All or part of 41 states, plus the District of Columbia, are listed.

4. The relief applies to farmers who were affected by drought that happened between September 1, 2017, and August 31, 2018.

5. This relief generally applies to capital gains realized by eligible farmers and ranchers on sales of livestock held for draft, dairy or breeding purposes. Sales of other livestock, such as those raised for slaughter or held for sporting purposes, or poultry are not eligible.

6. To qualify, the sales must be solely due to drought, flooding or other severe weather causing the region to be designated as eligible for federal assistance.

7. Farmers generally must replace the livestock within a four-year period, instead of the usual two-year period. Because the normal drought sale replacement period is four years, this extension immediately impacts drought sales that occurred during 2014. But because of previous drought-related extensions affecting some of these areas, the replacement periods for some drought sales before 2014 are also affected.

For additional details, please contact the office.

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IRS Relief for Taxpayers Affected by Hurricanes

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has declared a number of counties in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia disaster areas due to hurricanes Michael and Florence. Any area declared a major disaster as designated by FEMA qualifies for individual or public assistance. As such, individuals and residing or located in these counties are eligible for tax relief--including an extension to file beyond the October 15 deadline.

Extended deadlines apply to filing returns, paying taxes, and performing certain other time-sensitive acts and taxpayers in these areas receive the extensions automatically.

Furthermore, the IRS will work with any taxpayer (including workers assisting with relief activities with a recognized government or philanthropic organization) who lives outside the disaster area but whose records necessary to meet a deadline occurring during the postponement period are located in the affected area. Tax relief for taxpayers living outside the disaster area should be aware that tax relief is not automatically granted. Please call the office or contact the IRS directly at 866-562-5227.

The tax relief postpones various tax filing and payment deadlines that occurred starting on October 7, 2018. As a result, affected individuals and businesses will have until February 28, 2019, to file returns and pay any taxes that were originally due during this period. This means individuals who had a valid extension to file their 2017 return due to run out on October 15, 2018, will now have until February 28, 2019, to file. The IRS noted, however, that because tax payments related to these 2017 returns were due on April 18, 2018, those payments are not eligible for this relief.

The February 28, 2019, deadline also applies to quarterly estimated income tax payments due on January 15, 2019, and the quarterly payroll and excise tax returns normally due on October 31, 2018, and January 31, 2019. It also applies to tax-exempt organizations, operating on a calendar-year basis, that had a valid extension due to run out on November 15, 2018. Businesses with extensions also have the additional time including, among others, calendar-year corporations whose 2017 extensions run out on October 15, 2018.

In addition, penalties on payroll and excise tax deposits due on or after October 7, 2018, and before October 22, 2018, will be abated as long as the deposits are made by October 22, 2018.

Personal casualty losses attributable to certain 2018 federally declared disasters, including Hurricanes Michael and Florence, may be claimed as a qualified disaster loss.

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How to Enter Bills in QuickBooks

You may have noticed recently that business bill-paying is undergoing a transition. While some paper bills still come via the U.S. Mail, you may also be getting some of those bills via email. Sometimes, you might get a reminder email, but then must go to the vendor's site to make a payment.

How do you keep track of it all, so you don't miss any due dates? You could record them on a calendar, but you'd still have to go back to the actual bill to retrieve the amount. But where is it? Is it online, in your email inbox, in a file folder, or pinned to the corkboard on the wall?

QuickBooks can organize this unpleasant process, saving time and helping you avoid confusion. Here's how it works.

A 2-Step Process

QuickBooks divides your accounts payable tasks into two separate processes: entering bills and paying them. It requires some extra time upfront as you complete the first step, but streamlines the second so that the actual bill-paying only takes a few seconds.

To get started, click Enter Bills on QuickBooks' home page to open a window like this:


Figure 1: Before you can pay a bill in QuickBooks, you need to create a record for it.

The toolbar for the Enter Bills window is not pictured in the image above, but you don't need it yet. Rather, you start by clicking the down arrow in the field next to VENDOR and selecting the biller's name from your list (or clicking if you haven't yet created a record for that entity). The ADDRESS should fill in automatically, as should the date.

If you set up default payment TERMS in that vendor's record, your preference should show in that field and the BILL DUE date should be correct. Enter the AMOUNT DUE and complete any of the optional fields that the transaction requires (REF. NO., DISCOUNT DATE, and MEMO).

Since this is a utility bill, the Expenses tab should be highlighted, and the amount you entered above should appear in it. Below that is the ACCOUNT field; open that list and choose the right one. Don't worry about the CUSTOMER:JOB and BILLABLE fields. These will only be completed when you're charging a customer for an expense or item.

Warning: If you're not familiar with the concept of assigning accounts to transactions, please schedule some time one of the QuickBooks professionals at the office. This is a critical designation that affects so many other areas of QuickBooks.

Saving Your Work


Figure 2: The toolbar from the Enter Bills window.

Once you save your bill, you'll be able to access it when it's time to apply the payment. How will you remember when it's due, though? QuickBooks can remind you – or even pay it automatically. So, before you leave the Enter Bills window, click Memorize in the toolbar pictured above.

The Memorize Transaction window will open with your vendor already entered in the Name field. You'll have three options here:

  • Add to my Reminders list. QuickBooks can add this bill to its list of Reminders. To ensure that you'll see this every time you open the software and can make any changes necessary, open the Edit menu and click Preferences | Reminders | My Preferences. Click in the box in front of Show Reminders List when opening a Company file. Then click the Company Preferences tab (if you're the administrator) and find the Bills to Pay row. Click the appropriate button to indicate whether you want QuickBooks to Show Summary or Show List, and enter the number of days before due date.
  • Do Not Remind Me. Just what it sounds like.
  • Automate Transaction Entry. You can only select this if the transaction will be exactly the same every time (except for the date). If the number of transactions will be limited, enter the Number Remaining. And tell QuickBooks how many Days in Advance To Enter.

Figure 3: If you choose the third option here, be very careful when you define the automation. You should really do this only if you're an advanced user.

When you're done, click OK to close the box, and save the bill.

Next month, the second step will be discussed: the actual paying of bills. In the meantime, please call if you want to schedule a session to go over any aspect of your accounts payable – or anything else in QuickBooks.

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Tax Due Dates for November 2018

Anytime

Employers - Income Tax Withholding. Ask employees whose withholding allowances will be different in 2019 to fill out a new Form W-4. The 2019 revision of Form W-4 will be available on the IRS website by mid-December.

November 13

Employees who work for tips - If you received $20 or more in tips during October, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. File Form 941 for the third quarter of 2018. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time.

November 15

Employers - Nonpayroll withholding. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in October.

Employers - Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax. If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in October.


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