Accelerating Income and Deductions

Accelerating income into 2014 is an especially good idea for taxpayers who anticipate being in a higher tax bracket next year or 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).

Here are several examples of what a taxpayer might do to accelerate deductions:

  • 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 2015, by year-end. This does not apply to mortgage escrow accounts.
  • It may be beneficial to pay 2015 tuition in 2014 to take full advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, an above the line deduction 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 “threshold” expenses, such as medical and dental expenses (10 percent of AGI starting in 2013) and miscellaneous itemized deductions. For example, you might pay medical bills and dues and subscriptions in whichever year they would do you the most tax good.

    Threshold expenses are deductible only to the extent they exceed a certain percentage of adjusted gross income (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.

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 2014, depending on your situation.

The latter benefits include Roth IRA contributions, conversions of regular IRAs to Roth IRAs, child credits, higher education tax credits and deductions for student loan interest.

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, increasing your withholding before year-end can avoid or reduce any estimated tax penalty that might otherwise be due.

Tip: 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.

Year-End Tax Planning for Individuals

Once again, tax planning for the year ahead presents more challenges than usual, this time due to the numerous tax extenders that expired at the end of 2013.

These tax extenders, which include nonbusiness energy credits and the sales tax deduction that allows taxpayers to deduct state and local general sales taxes instead of state and local income taxes, may or may not be reauthorized by Congress and made retroactive to the beginning of the year.

More significant however, is taxable income in relation to threshold amounts that might bump a taxpayer into a higher or lower tax bracket, thus, subjecting taxpayers to additional taxes such as the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) or an additional Medicare tax.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at some of the tax strategies that you can use right now, given the current tax situation.

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. General tax planning strategies that taxpayers might consider include the following:

  • Sell 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 in 2015 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 a tax return for tax year 2015.
  • Prepay deductible expenses such as charitable contributions and medical expenses this year using a credit card. 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. 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 2014 tax return.
  • If your company grants stock options, you may want to exercise the option or sell stock acquired by exercise of an option this year if you think your tax bracket will be higher in 2015. Exercise of the option is often but not always 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 in order to be paid in full by the end of December.

Caution: Keep an eye on the estimated tax requirements.

IRS: Tax refunds could be delayed next year

The IRS could be forced to delay tax refunds next year if Congress doesn’t strike a deal on dozens of expired tax provisions by the end of next month, the agency’s commissioner said this week.

IRS chief John Koskinen said the agency might have to postpone the 2015 filing season if lawmakers don’t act any sooner on the expired tax provisions known as extenders.

The uncertainty over the fate of the extenders, Koskinen said, has already raised “serious operational and compliance risks.” The IRS is currently upgrading technology systems, offering new instructions to customer service staff and revising forms in preparation for the next filing season, Koskinen added.

“Continued uncertainty would impose even more stress not only on the IRS, but also on the entire tax community, including tax professionals, software providers, and tax volunteers, who are all critical to the successful operation of our nation’s tax system,” Koskinen wrote in a letter dated Monday.

The Senate Finance Committee cleared a bipartisan bill this year that would revive most of the temporary tax breaks that expired at the end of last year through 2015 — including incentives with broad support such as the credit for business research, and more narrow provisions that help NASCAR track owners and Puerto Rican rum distillers.

Senate Republicans blocked that bill this spring as part of their broader fight with Democrats over floor procedure, but GOP senators predicted that a deal on the provisions would likely materialize in the lame-duck session after November’s elections.

House Republicans, on the other hand, have been trying to extend some of the provisions permanently, in particular the research credit and other tax breaks for business write-offs.

Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who received Koskinen’s letter, said the IRS warning should prod lawmakers to quickly renew the expired provisions when they return to Washington just over a week after the elections.

“As the economy begins to show signs of strength, uncertainty from the federal tax code is the last thing American businesses and families need as they look to grow and invest,” Wyden said in a statement.

This is far from the first time the IRS has warned Congress about pushing back tax refunds. The agency delayed the 2014 tax season because of the previous year’s government shutdown, after pushing back the 2013 season to deal with the late passage of the fiscal cliff deal.

The problems for the filing season would be even more severe if Congress doesn’t reach an extenders deal before the end of 2014, Koskinen warned — “likely resulting in service disruptions, millions of taxpayers needing to file amended returns, and substantially delayed refunds.”

IRS Repeats Warning about Phone Scams

The Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration continue to hear from taxpayers who have received unsolicited calls from individuals demanding payment while fraudulently claiming to be from the IRS.

Based on the 90,000 complaints that TIGTA has received through its telephone hotline, to date, TIGTA has identified approximately 1,100 victims who have lost an estimated $5 million from these scams.

“There are clear warning signs about these scams, which continue at high levels throughout the nation,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Taxpayers should remember their first contact with the IRS will not be a call from out of the blue, but through official correspondence sent through the mail. A big red flag for these scams are angry, threatening calls from people who say they are from the IRS and urging immediate payment. This is not how we operate. People should hang up immediately and contact TIGTA or the IRS.”

Additionally, it is important for taxpayers to know that the IRS:

  • Never asks for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the telephone.
  • Never insists that taxpayers use a specific payment method to pay tax obligations.
  • Never requests immediate payment over the telephone and will not take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversation. Taxpayers usually receive prior notification of IRS enforcement action involving IRS tax liens or levies.

Potential phone scam victims may be told that they owe money that must be paid immediately to the IRS or they are entitled to big refunds. When unsuccessful the first time, sometimes phone scammers call back trying a new strategy.

Other characteristics of these scams include:

  • Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.
  • Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security number.
  • Scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.
  • Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.
  • Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.
  • After threatening victims with jail time or driver’s license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do:

  • If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue, if there really is such an issue.
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to TIGTA at 1.800.366.4484.
  • If you’ve been targeted by this scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.

Taxpayers should be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.

The IRS encourages taxpayers to be vigilant against phone and email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts.

Recipients should not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the e-mail to phishing@irs.gov.

To report a scam directly to the IRS, go to www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box.

If you think you’ve been a victim of a scam or need more information on how to report phishing scams involving the IRS, don’t hesitate to contact us immediately.

Job Search Expenses May Lower Your Taxes

September is often a time of transition, when people decide to make major life decisions–such as changing jobs. If you’re looking for a new job, then you may be able to claim a tax deduction for some of your job hunting expenses–as long as it’s in your same line of work.

Here’s what you need to know about deducting these costs:

1. Same Occupation. Your expenses must be for a job search in your current occupation. You may not deduct expenses related to a search for a job in a new occupation.

2. Reimbursed Costs. If your employer or another party reimburses you for an expense, you may not deduct it.

3. Placement Agency. You can deduct employment and job placement agency fees you pay while looking for a job.

4. Resume Costs. You can deduct the cost of preparing and mailing copies of your resume to prospective employers.

5. Travel Expenses. If you travel to look for a new job, you may be able to deduct your travel expenses. However, you can only deduct them if the trip is primarily to look for a new job.

6. Work-Search Break. You can’t deduct job search expenses if there was a substantial break between the end of your last job and the time you began looking for a new one.

7. First Job. You can’t deduct job search expenses if you’re looking for a job for the first time.

8. Schedule A. You usually deduct your job search expenses on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. You’ll claim them as a miscellaneous deduction. You can deduct the total miscellaneous deductions that are more than two percent of your adjusted gross income.

9. Premium Tax Credit. If you receive advance payment of the premium tax credit in 2014 it is important that you report changes in circumstances, such as changes in your income or family size, to your Health Insurance Marketplace. Advance payments of the premium tax credit provide financial assistance to help you pay for the insurance you buy through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Reporting changes will help you get the proper type and amount of financial assistance so you can avoid getting too much or too little in advance.

Give us a call if you have any questions about tax deductions related to a job search.

What You Need to Know About Obamacare’s 18 Taxes

Obamacare created a new entitlement through its exchange subsidies and vastly expanded another one, Medicaid. The Congressional Budget Office expects these two pieces of the law to cost over $1.8 trillion over the next decade.

To offset some of this new spending, the law includes 18 new or increased taxes and fees that are estimated to bring in nearly $800 billion in new revenue from 2013-2022.

>>> Chart: These 6 Firms Behind Obamacare Website Got Most of Your Money

Many of Obamacare’s taxes fall directly on the middle class, breaking the president’s promise to the contrary, while others will affect taxpayers indirectly through increased costs for goods, higher insurance premiums or lost wages.

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One of these taxes (#3 in the table) has garnered media attention this week because it is going to be assessed on the federal and state governments. This tax, the health insurer tax, must be paid by each insurer based on the insurer’s share of the market. Thus, private Medicaid managed care companies that are paid by both the federal and state governments, must pay the tax as well. Altogether, the tax is expected to bring in $8 billion in revenue this year and about $100 billion in new revenue over a decade.

Of course, it is the taxpayer that will end up paying this tax. However, any taxpayers that are also enrolled in private insurance will likely pay for this particular tax twice–once through state and federal taxes and then again via increased premiums as their health insurer is likely to pass on the cost of the tax in this way.

Affordable Care Act – Individuals

New IRS Publication Helps You Find out if You Qualify for a Health Coverage Exemption

Taxpayers who might qualify for an exemption from having qualifying health coverage and making a payment should review a new IRS publication for information about these exemptions. Publication 5172, Health Coverage Exemptions, which includes information about how you get an exemption, is available on IRS.gov/aca.

The Affordable Care Act calls for each individual to have qualifying health insurance coverage for each month of the year, have an exemption, or make an individual shared responsibility payment when filing his or her federal income tax return.

You may be exempt if you:

  • Have no affordable coverage options because the minimum amount you must pay for the annual premiums is more than eight percent of your household income,
  • Have a gap in coverage for less than three consecutive months, or
  • Qualify for an exemption for one of several other reasons, including having a hardship that prevents you from obtaining coverage or belonging to a group explicitly exempt from the requirement.

Special Tax Benefits for Armed Forces Personnel

Special tax benefits apply to members of the U. S. Armed Forces. For example, some types of pay are not taxable. And special rules may apply to some tax deductions, credits and deadlines. Here are ten of those benefits:

1. Deadline Extensions. Some members of the military, such as those who serve in a combat zone, can postpone some tax deadlines. If this applies to you, you can get automatic extensions of time to file your tax return and to pay your taxes.

2. Combat Pay Exclusion. If you serve in a combat zone, certain combat pay you get is not taxable. You won’t need to show the pay on your tax return because combat pay isn’t included in the wages reported on your Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Service in support of a combat zone may qualify for this exclusion.

3. Earned Income Tax Credit. If you get nontaxable combat pay, you may choose to include it to figure your EITC. You would make this choice if it increases your credit. Even if you do, the combat pay stays nontaxable.

4. Moving Expense Deduction. You may be able to deduct some of your unreimbursed moving costs. This applies if the move is due to a permanent change of station.

5. Uniform Deduction. You can deduct the costs of certain uniforms that regulations prohibit you from wearing while off duty. This includes the costs of purchase and upkeep. You must reduce your deduction by any allowance you get for these costs.

6. Signing Joint Returns. Both spouses normally must sign a joint income tax return. If your spouse is absent due to certain military duty or conditions, you may be able to sign for your spouse. In other cases when your spouse is absent, you may need a power of attorney to file a joint return.

7. Reservists’ Travel Deduction. If you’re a member of the U.S. Armed Forces Reserves, you may deduct certain costs of travel on your tax return. This applies to the unreimbursed costs of travel to perform your reserve duties that are more than 100 miles away from home.

8. Nontaxable ROTC Allowances. Active duty ROTC pay, such as pay for summer advanced camp, is taxable. But some amounts paid to ROTC students in advanced training are not taxable. This applies to educational and subsistence allowances.

9. Civilian Life. If you leave the military and look for work, you may be able to deduct some job hunting expenses. You may be able to include the costs of travel, preparing a resume and job placement agency fees. Moving expenses may also qualify for a tax deduction.

10. Tax Help. Although most military bases offer free tax preparation and filing assistance during the tax filing season, you may need to contact an accounting professional during other times of the year. We’re here to help, so don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you have about your taxes–no matter what time of the year it is.

Five Basic Tax Tips for New Businesses

If you start a business, one key to success is to know about your federal tax obligations. Not only will you probably need to know about income taxes, you may also need to know about payroll taxes as well. Here are five basic tax tips that can help get your business off to a good start.

1. Business Structure. As you start out, you’ll need to choose the structure of your business. Some common types include sole proprietorship, partnership and corporation. You may also choose to be an S corporation or Limited Liability Company. You’ll report your business activity using the IRS forms which are right for your business type.

2. Business Taxes. There are four general types of business taxes. They are income tax, self-employment tax, employment tax and excise tax. The type of taxes your business pays usually depends on which type of business you choose to set up. You may need to pay your taxes by making estimated tax payments.

3. Employer Identification Number. You may need to get an EIN for federal tax purposes. Give us a call to find out if you need this number. If you do need one, we are available to guide you through the process of applying for it online.

4. Accounting Method. An accounting method is a set of rules that determine when to report income and expenses. Your business must use a consistent method. The two that are most common are the cash method and the accrual method. Under the cash method, you normally report income in the year that you receive it and deduct expenses in the year that you pay them. Under the accrual method, you generally report income in the year that you earn it and deduct expenses in the year that you incur them. This is true even if you receive the income or pay the expenses in a future year.

5. Employee Health Care. The Small Business Health Care Tax Credit helps small businesses and tax-exempt organizations pay for health care coverage they offer their employees. A small employer is eligible for the credit if it has fewer than 25 employees who work full-time, or a combination of full-time and part-time. Beginning in 2014, the maximum credit is 50 percent of premiums paid for small business employers and 35 percent of premiums paid for small tax-exempt employers, such as charities.

For 2015 and after, employers employing at least a certain number of employees (generally 50 full-time employees or a combination of full-time and part-time employees that is equivalent to 50 full-time employees) will be subject to the Employer Shared Responsibility provision.

Have a business idea? Call us first. We’ll make sure you have everything in place to make your new business a successful one.

What Entities Will the IRS Target for 2014 and 2015 Audits?

The GAO says that since FY 2010, the IRS has lost 10,000 employees and had its budget cut by $900 million. More cuts are proposed for the 2015 IRS budget. Identity theft issues, foreign asset reporting, and Affordable Care Act (ACA) responsibilities will continue to absorb personnel and resources. This budget reality will hamper IRS audit goals, but there are still many audit targets that you will want to discuss with your business clients in the next few months.

The rich and their entities. High-income taxpayers will continue to receive audit attention (at about a 9% rate for those reporting income of $1 million to $5 million). Since these taxpayers often have complex tax returns with income and losses from many flow-through entities, the audit of the owner will often lead to an expansion of the IRS examination into the various entities.

Partnership returns. Partnerships are the fastest-growing segment of all tax returns filed. The IRS hopes to expand its audits of partnership and LLC returns. Flow-through losses from developers and real estate investors will get special attention. The audit rate of partnerships and LLCs was a dismal .42% for FY 2013. The IRS did special training this year to increase the number of auditors with a specialized knowledge in partnership law.

Employment taxes. Employment taxes are a focus this year, and this includes a continuing look by the IRS at:

  1. Employee versus independent contractor,
  2. Form 1099 compliance, and
  3. S corporation reasonable compensation issues.

Remember that when the ACA’s employer mandate takes effect in 2015 and 2016, the employee versus independent contractor determination will become more important. Employer ACA penalties can be up to $3,000 for each misclassified employee.

Cash businesses. The tax gap remains a hot item, so cash-intensive businesses will receive a little more attention from the IRS. The IRS is using Form 1099-K to help it select some of these businesses for audit.

One more item of news on business audits. Ninety-four percent of small businesses use QuickBooks software for their accounting records, but the IRS does not have the budget to update its QuickBooks software yearly. Thus, it is unable to accept electronic records from many of the small businesses it is auditing. Without access to electronic records, the audit will be less efficient. Is that good or bad news for the taxpayer and/or the tax practitioner? We will talk about this at our fall Federal & California Tax Update classes.