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It’s a safe bet that state tax authorities will let you know if you haven’t paid enough sales and use taxes, but what are the odds that you’ll be notified if you’ve paid too much? The chances are slim — so slim that many businesses use reverse audits to find overpayments so they can seek refunds.
Take all of your exemptions
In most states, businesses are exempt from sales tax on equipment used in manufacturing or recycling, and many states don’t require them to pay taxes on the utilities and chemicals used in these processes, either. In some states, custom software, computers and peripherals are exempt if they’re used for research and development projects.
This is just a sampling of sales and use tax exemptions that might be available. Unless you’re diligent about claiming exemptions, you may be missing out on some to which you’re entitled.
Many businesses have sales and use tax compliance systems to guard against paying too much, but if you haven’t reviewed yours recently, it may not be functioning properly. Employee turnover, business expansion or downsizing, and simple mistakes all can take their toll.
Look back and broadly
The audit should extend across your business, going back as far as the statute of limitations on state tax reviews. If your state auditors can review all records for the four years preceding the audit, for example, your reverse audit should encompass the same timeframe.
What types of payments should be reviewed? You may have made overpayments on components of manufactured products as well as on the equipment you use to make the products. Other areas where overpayments may occur, depending on state laws, include:
• Pollution control equipment and supplies,
• Safety equipment,
• Warehouse equipment,
• Software licenses,
• Maintenance fees,
• Protective clothing, and
• Service transactions.
When considering whether you may have overpaid taxes in these and other areas, a clear understanding of your operations is key. If, for example, you want to ensure you’re receiving maximum benefit from industrial processing exemptions, you must know where your manufacturing process begins and ends.
Save now and later
Reverse audits can be time consuming and complicated, but a little pain can bring significant gain. Use your reverse audit not only to reap tax refund rewards now but also to update your compliance systems to help ensure you don’t overpay taxes in the future.
Rules and regulations surrounding state sales and use tax refunds are complicated. We can help you understand them and ensure your refund claims are properly prepared before you submit them.


Most of the talk about possible tax legislation this year has focused on either wide-sweeping tax reform or taxes that are part of the Affordable Care Act. But there are a few other potential tax developments for individuals to keep an eye on.
Back in December of 2015, Congress passed the PATH Act, which made a multitude of tax breaks permanent. However, there were a few valuable breaks for individuals that it extended only through 2016. The question now is whether Congress will extend them for 2017.
An education break
One break the PATH Act extended through 2016 was the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses for higher education. The deduction was capped at $4,000 for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income (AGI) didn’t exceed $65,000 ($130,000 for joint filers) or, for those beyond those amounts, $2,000 for taxpayers whose AGI didn’t exceed $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers).
You couldn’t take the American Opportunity credit, its cousin the Lifetime Learning credit and the tuition deduction in the same year for the same student. If you were eligible for all three breaks, the American Opportunity credit would typically be the most valuable in terms of tax savings.
But in some situations, the AGI reduction from the tuition deduction might prove more beneficial than taking the Lifetime Learning credit. For example, a lower AGI might help avoid having other tax breaks reduced or eliminated due to AGI-based phaseouts.
Mortgage-related tax breaks
Under the PATH Act, through 2016 you could treat qualified mortgage insurance premiums as interest for purposes of the mortgage interest deduction. The deduction phased out for taxpayers with AGI of $100,000 to $110,000.
The PATH Act likewise extended through 2016 the exclusion from gross income for mortgage loan forgiveness. It also modified the exclusion to apply to mortgage forgiveness that occurs in 2017 as long as it’s granted pursuant to a written agreement entered into in 2016. So even if this break isn’t extended, you might still be able to benefit from it on your 2017 income tax return.
Act now
Please check back with us for the latest information. In the meantime, keep in mind that, if you qualify and you haven’t filed your 2016 income tax return yet, you can take advantage of these breaks on that tax return. The deadline for individual extended returns is October 16, 2017.


Now that Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal and replacement efforts appear to have collapsed, at least for the time being, it’s a good time for a refresher on the tax penalty the ACA imposes on individuals who fail to have “minimum essential” health insurance coverage for any month of the year. This requirement is commonly called the “individual mandate.”
Penalty exemptions
Before we review how the penalty is calculated, let’s take a quick look at exceptions to the penalty. Taxpayers may be exempt if they fit into one of these categories for 2017:
• Their household income is below the federal income tax return filing threshold.
• They lack access to affordable minimum essential coverage.
• They suffered a hardship in obtaining coverage.
• They have only a short-term coverage gap.
• They qualify for an exception on religious grounds or have coverage through a health care sharing ministry.
• They’re not a U.S. citizen or national.
• They’re incarcerated.
• They’re a member of a Native American tribe.
Calculating the tax
So how much can the penalty cost? That’s a tricky question. If you owe the penalty, the tentative amount equals the greater of the following two prongs:
1. The applicable percentage of your household income above the applicable federal income tax return filing threshold, or
2. The applicable dollar amount times the number of uninsured individuals in your household, limited to 300% of the applicable dollar amount.
In terms of the percentage-of-income prong of the penalty, the applicable percentage of income is 2.5% for 2017.
In terms of the dollar-amount prong of the penalty, the applicable dollar amount for each uninsured household member is $695 for 2017. For a household member who’s under age 18, the applicable dollar amounts are cut by 50%, to $347.50. The maximum penalty under this prong for 2017 is $2,085 (300% of $695).
The final penalty amount per person can’t exceed the national average cost of “bronze coverage” (the cheapest category of ACA-compliant coverage) for your household. The important thing to know is that a high-income person or household could owe more than 300% of the applicable dollar amount but not more than the cost of bronze coverage.
If you have minimum essential coverage for only part of the year, the final penalty is calculated on a monthly basis using prorated annual figures.
Also be aware that the extent to which the penalty will continue to be enforced isn’t certain. The IRS has been accepting 2016 tax returns even if a taxpayer hasn’t completed the line indicating health coverage status. That said, the ACA is still the law, so compliance is highly recommended. For more information about this and other ACA-imposed taxes, contact us.


Now that we’ve hit midsummer, if you own a vacation home that you both rent out and use personally, it’s a good time to review the potential tax consequences:
If you rent it out for less than 15 days: You don’t have to report the income. But expenses associated with the rental (such as advertising and cleaning) won’t be deductible.
If you rent it out for 15 days or more: You must report the income. But what expenses you can deduct depends on how the home is classified for tax purposes, based on the amount of personal vs. rental use:
• Rental property. If you (or your immediate family) use the home for 14 days or less, or under 10% of the days you rent out the property, whichever is greater, the IRS will classify the home as a rental property. You can deduct rental expenses, including losses, subject to the real estate activity rules. You can’t deduct any interest that’s attributable to your personal use of the home, but you can take the personal portion of property tax as an itemized deduction.
• Nonrental property. If you (or your immediate family) use the home for more than 14 days or 10% of the days you rent out the property, whichever is greater, the IRS will classify the home as a personal residence, but you will still have to report the rental income. You can deduct rental expenses only to the extent of your rental income. Any excess can be carried forward to offset rental income in future years. You also can take an itemized deduction for the personal portion of both mortgage interest and property tax.
Look at the use of your vacation home year-to-date to project how it will be classified for tax purposes. Adjusting the number of days you rent it out and/or use it personally between now and year end might allow the home to be classified in a more beneficial way.
For assistance, please contact us. We’d be pleased to help.
© 2017
LINKEDIN/FACEBOOK IMAGE POST (STAND-ALONE POST WITHOUT A LINK):
Own a vacation home? Adjusting rental vs. personal use might save taxes. If you rent out the home for less than 15 days, you don’t have to report the income, but rental expenses aren’t deductible. If you rent it out for 15 days or more, you must report the income, and deductibility of expenses depends on how the home is classified for tax purposes, based on personal vs. rental use. Adjusting the number of days you rent it out and/or use it personally between now and year end might allow the home to be classified in a more beneficial way. Contact us to learn more.


Summer is a popular time to move, whether it’s so the kids don’t have to change schools mid-school-year, to avoid having to move in bad weather or simply because it can be an easier time to sell a home. Unfortunately, moving can be expensive. The good news is that you might be eligible for a federal tax deduction for your moving costs.
Pass the tests
The first requirement is that the move be work-related. You don’t have to be an employee; the self-employed can also be eligible for the moving expense deduction.
The second is a distance test. The new main job location must be at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your former main job location was from that home. So a work-related move from city to suburb or from town to neighboring town probably won’t qualify, even if not moving would increase your commute significantly.
Finally, there’s a time test. You must work full time at the new job location for at least 39 weeks during the first year. If you’re self-employed, you must meet that test plus work full time for at least 78 weeks during the first 24 months at the new job location. (Certain limited exceptions apply.)
What’s deductible
So which expenses can be written off? Generally, you can deduct transportation and lodging expenses for yourself and household members while moving.
In addition, you can likely deduct the cost of packing and transporting your household goods and other personal property. And you may be able to deduct the expense of storing and insuring these items while in transit. Costs related to connecting or disconnecting utilities are usually deductible, too.
But don’t expect to write off everything. Meal costs during move-related travel aren’t deductible. Nor is any part of the purchase price of a new home or expenses incurred selling your old one. And, if your employer later reimburses you for any of the moving costs you’ve deducted, you may have to include the reimbursement as income on your tax return.
Questions about whether your moving expenses are deductible? Or what you can deduct? Contact us.


Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the second third quarter of 2017. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you. Contact us to ensure you’re meeting all applicable deadlines and to learn more about the filing requirements.
July 31
• Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for  third 2017 (Form 941), and pay any tax due. (See exception below.)
• File a 2016 calendar-year retirement plan report (Form 5500 or Form 5500-EZ) or request an extension.
August 10
• Report income tax withholding and FICA taxes for  third 2017 (Form 941), if you deposited on time and in full all of the associated taxes due.
September 15
• If a calendar-year C corporation, pay the third installment of 2017 estimated income taxes.
• If a calendar-year S corporation or partnership that filed an automatic six-month extension:
o File a 2016 income tax return (Form 1120S, Form 1065 or Form 1065-B) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due.
o Make contributions for 2016 to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.


With school letting out you might be focused on summer plans for your children (or grandchildren). But the end of the school year is also a good time to think about Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) — especially if the children are in grade school or younger.
One major advantage of ESAs over another popular education saving tool, the Section 529 plan, is that tax-free ESA distributions aren’t limited to college expenses; they also can fund elementary and secondary school costs. That means you can use ESA funds to pay for such qualified expenses as tutoring and private school tuition.
Other benefits
Here are some other key ESA benefits:
• Although contributions aren’t deductible, plan assets can grow tax-deferred.
• You remain in control of the account — even after the child is of legal age.
• You can make rollovers to another qualifying family member.
A sibling or first cousin is a typical example of a qualifying family member, if he or she is eligible to be an ESA beneficiary (that is, under age 18 or has special needs).
Limitations
The ESA annual contribution limit is $2,000 per beneficiary. The total contributions for a particular ESA beneficiary cannot be more than $2,000 in any year, no matter how many accounts have been established or how many people are contributing.
However, the ability to contribute is phased out based on income. The phaseout range is modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $190,000–$220,000 for married couples filing jointly and $95,000–$110,000 for other filers. You can make a partial contribution if your MAGI falls within the applicable range, and no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range.
If there is a balance in the ESA when the beneficiary reaches age 30 (unless the beneficiary is a special needs individual), it must generally be distributed within 30 days. The portion representing earnings on the account will be taxable and subject to a 10% penalty. But these taxes can be avoided by rolling over the full balance to another ESA for a qualifying family member.
Would you like more information about ESAs or other tax-advantaged ways to fund your child’s — or grandchild’s — education expenses? Contact us!


All charitable donations aren’t created equal — some provide larger deductions than others. And it isn’t necessarily just how much or even what you donate that matters. How the charity uses your donation might also affect your deduction.
Take vehicle donations, for example. If you donate your vehicle, the value of your deduction can vary greatly depending on what the charity does with it.
Determining your deduction
You can deduct the vehicle’s fair market value (FMV) if the charity:
• Uses the vehicle for a significant charitable purpose (such as delivering meals-on-wheels to the elderly),
• Sells the vehicle for substantially less than FMV in furtherance of a charitable purpose (such as a sale to a low-income person needing transportation), or
• Makes “material improvements” to the vehicle.
But in most other circumstances, if the charity sells the vehicle, your deduction is limited to the amount of the sales proceeds.
Getting proper substantiation
You also must obtain proper substantiation from the charity, including a written acknowledgment that:
• Certifies whether the charity sold the vehicle or retained it for use for a charitable purpose,
• Includes your name and tax identification number and the vehicle identification number, and
• Reports, if applicable, details concerning the sale of the vehicle within 30 days of the sale.
For more information on these and other rules that apply to vehicle donation deductions — or deductions for other charitable gifts — please contact us.


If you recently filed your 2016 income tax return (rather than filing for an extension) you may now be wondering whether it’s likely that your business could be audited by the IRS based on your filing. Here’s what every business owner should know about the process.
Catching the IRS’s eye
Many business audits occur randomly, but a variety of tax-return-related items are likely to raise red flags with the IRS and may lead to an audit. Here are a few examples:
• Significant inconsistencies between previous years’ filings and your most current filing,
• Gross profit margin or expenses markedly different from those of other businesses in your industry, and
• Miscalculated or unusually high deductions.
An owner-employee salary that’s inordinately higher or lower than those in similar companies in his or her location can also catch the IRS’s eye, especially if the business is structured as a corporation.
Response measures
If you’re selected for an audit, you’ll be notified by letter. Generally, the IRS won’t make initial contact by phone. But if there’s no response to the letter, the agency may follow up with a call.
The good news is that many audits simply request that you mail in documentation to support certain deductions you’ve taken. Others may ask you to take receipts and other documents to a local IRS office. Only the most severe version, the field audit, requires meeting with one or more IRS auditors.
More good news: In no instance will the agency demand an immediate response. You’ll be informed of the discrepancies in question and given time to prepare. To do so, you’ll need to collect and organize all relevant income and expense records. If any records are missing, you’ll have to reconstruct the information as accurately as possible based on other documentation.
If the IRS selects you for an audit, our firm can help you:
• Understand what the IRS is disputing (it’s not always crystal clear),
• Gather the specific documents and information needed, and
• Respond to the auditor’s inquiries in the most expedient and effective manner.
Don’t let an IRS audit ruin your year — be it this year, next year or whenever that letter shows up in the mail. By taking a meticulous, proactive approach to how you track, document and file your company’s tax-related information, you’ll make an audit much less painful and even decrease the chances that one happens in the first place.


Income and losses from investment real estate or rental property are passive by definition — unless you’re a real estate professional. Why does this matter? Passive income may be subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT), and passive losses generally are deductible only against passive income, with the excess being carried forward.
Of course the NIIT is part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and might be eliminated under ACA repeal and replace legislation or tax reform legislation. But if/when such legislation will be passed and signed into law is uncertain. Even if the NIIT is eliminated, the passive loss issue will still be an important one for many taxpayers investing in real estate.
“Professional” requirements
To qualify as a real estate professional, you must annually perform:
• More than 50% of your personal services in real property trades or businesses in which you materially participate, and
• More than 750 hours of service in these businesses.
Each year stands on its own, and there are other nuances. (Special rules for spouses may help you meet the 750-hour test.)
Tax strategies
If you’re concerned you’ll fail either test and be subject to the 3.8% NIIT or stuck with passive losses, consider doing one of the following:
Increasing your involvement in the real estate activity. If you can pass the real estate professional tests, the activity no longer will be subject to passive activity rules.
Looking at other activities. If you have passive losses from your real estate investment, consider investing in another income-producing trade or business that will be passive to you. That way, you’ll have passive income that can absorb some or all of your passive losses.
Disposing of the activity. This generally allows you to deduct all passive losses — including any loss on disposition (subject to basis and capital loss limitations). But, again, the rules are complex.
Also be aware that the IRS frequently challenges claims of real estate professional status — and is often successful. One situation where the IRS commonly prevails is when the taxpayer didn’t keep adequate records of time spent on real estate activities.
If you’re not sure whether you qualify as a real estate professional, please contact us. We can help you make this determination and guide you on how to properly document your hours.


It’s a smaller business world after all. With the ease and popularity of e-commerce, as well as the incredible efficiency of many supply chains, companies of all sorts are finding it easier than ever to widen their markets. Doing so has become so much more feasible that many businesses quickly find themselves crossing state lines.
But therein lies a risk: Operating in another state means possibly being subject to taxation in that state. The resulting liability can, in some cases, inhibit profitability. But sometimes it can produce tax savings.
Do you have “nexus”?
Essentially, “nexus” means a business presence in a given state that’s substantial enough to trigger that state’s tax rules and obligations.
Precisely what activates nexus in a given state depends on that state’s chosen criteria. Triggers can vary but common criteria include:
• Employing workers in the state,
• Owning (or, in some cases even leasing) property there,
• Marketing your products or services in the state,
• Maintaining a substantial amount of inventory there, and
• Using a local telephone number.
Then again, one generally can’t say that nexus has a “hair trigger.” A minimal amount of business activity in a given state probably won’t create tax liability there. For example, an HVAC company that makes a few tech calls a year across state lines probably wouldn’t be taxed in that state. Or let’s say you ask a salesperson to travel to another state to establish relationships or gauge interest. As long as he or she doesn’t close any sales, and you have no other activity in the state, you likely won’t have nexus.
Strategic moves
If your company already operates in another state and you’re unsure of your tax liabilities there — or if you’re thinking about starting up operations in another state — consider conducting a nexus study. This is a systematic approach to identifying the out-of-state taxes to which your business activities may expose you.
Keep in mind that the results of a nexus study may not be negative. You might find that your company’s overall tax liability is lower in a neighboring state. In such cases, it may be advantageous to create nexus in that state (if you don’t already have it) by, say, setting up a small office there. If all goes well, you may be able to allocate some income to that state and lower your tax bill.
The complexity of state tax laws offers both risk and opportunity. Contact us for help ensuring your business comes out on the winning end of a move across state lines.


Private companies with more than one owner should have a buy-sell agreement to spell out how ownership shares will change hands should an owner depart. For businesses structured as C corporations, the agreements also have significant tax implications that are important to understand.
Buy-sell basics
A buy-sell agreement sets up parameters for the transfer of ownership interests following stated “triggering events,” such as an owner’s death or long-term disability, loss of license or other legal incapacitation, retirement, bankruptcy, or divorce. The agreement typically will also specify how the purchase price for the departing owner’s shares will be determined, such as by stating the valuation method to be used.
Another key issue a buy-sell agreement addresses is funding. In many cases, business owners don’t have the cash readily available to buy out a departing owner. So insurance is commonly used to fund these agreements. And this is where different types of agreements — which can lead to tax issues for C corporations — come into play.
Under a cross-purchase agreement, each owner buys life or disability insurance (or both) that covers the other owners, and the owners use the proceeds to purchase the departing owner’s shares. Under a redemption agreement, the company buys the insurance and, when an owner exits the business, buys his or her shares.
Sometimes a hybrid agreement is used that combines aspects of both approaches. It may stipulate that the company gets the first opportunity to redeem ownership shares and that, if the company is unable to buy the shares, the remaining owners are then responsible for doing so. Alternatively, the owners may have the first opportunity to buy the shares.
C corp. tax consequences
A C corp. with a redemption agreement funded by life insurance can face adverse tax consequences. First, receipt of insurance proceeds could trigger corporate alternative minimum tax.
Second, the value of the remaining owners’ shares will probably rise without increasing their basis. This, in turn, could drive up their tax liability if they later sell their shares.
Heightened liability for the corporate alternative minimum tax is generally unavoidable under these circumstances. But you may be able to manage the second problem by revising your buy-sell as a cross-purchase agreement. Under this approach, owners will buy additional shares themselves — increasing their basis.
Naturally, there are downsides. If owners are required to buy a departing owner’s shares, but the company redeems the shares instead, the IRS may characterize the purchase as a taxable dividend. Your business may be able to mitigate this risk by crafting a hybrid agreement that names the corporation as a party to the transaction and allows the remaining owners to buy back the shares without requiring them to do so.
For more information on the tax ramifications of buy-sell agreements, contact us. And if your business doesn’t have a buy-sell in place yet, we can help you figure out which type of funding method will best meet your needs while minimizing any negative tax consequences.


While April 15 (April 18 this year) is the main tax deadline on most individual taxpayers’ minds, there are others through the rest of the year that are important to be aware of. To help you make sure you don’t miss any important 2017 deadlines, here’s a look at when some key tax-related forms, payments and other actions are due. Keep in mind that this list isn’t all-inclusive, so there may be additional deadlines that apply to you.
Please review the calendar and let us know if you have any questions about the deadlines or would like assistance in meeting them.
June 15
• File a 2016 individual income tax return (Form 1040) or file for a four-month extension (Form 4868), and pay any tax and interest due, if you live outside the United States.
• Pay the second installment of 2017 estimated taxes, if not paying income tax through withholding (Form 1040-ES).
September 15
• Pay the third installment of 2017 estimated taxes, if not paying income tax through withholding (Form 1040-ES).
October 2
• If you’re the trustee of a trust or the executor of an estate, file an income tax return for the 2016 calendar year (Form 1041) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic five-and-a-half month extension was filed.
October 16
• File a 2016 income tax return (Form 1040, Form 1040A or Form 1040EZ) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic six-month extension was filed (or if an automatic four-month extension was filed by a taxpayer living outside the United States).
• Make contributions for 2016 to certain retirement plans or establish a SEP for 2016, if an automatic six-month extension was filed.
• File a 2016 gift tax return (Form 709) and pay any tax, interest and penalties due, if an automatic six-month extension was filed.
December 31
• Make 2017 contributions to certain employer-sponsored retirement plans.
• Make 2017 annual exclusion gifts (up to $14,000 per recipient).
• Incur various expenses that potentially can be claimed as itemized deductions on your 2017 tax return. Examples include charitable donations, medical expenses, property tax payments and expenses eligible for the miscellaneous itemized deduction.


Yes, there’s still time to make 2016 contributions to your IRA. The deadline for such contributions is April 18, 2017. If the contribution is deductible, it will lower your 2016 tax bill. But even if it isn’t, making a 2016 contribution is likely a good idea.

Benefits beyond a deduction

Tax-advantaged retirement plans like IRAs allow your money to grow tax-deferred — or, in the case of Roth accounts, tax-free. But annual contributions are limited by tax law, and any unused limit can’t be carried forward to make larger contributions in future years.

This means that, once the contribution deadline has passed, the tax-advantaged savings opportunity is lost forever. So it’s a good idea to use up as much of your annual limit as possible.

Contribution options

The 2016 limit for total contributions to all IRAs generally is $5,500 ($6,500 if you were age 50 or older on December 31, 2016). If you haven’t already maxed out your 2016 limit, consider making one of these types of contributions by April 18:

1. Deductible traditional. If you and your spouse don’t participate in an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k) — or you do but your income doesn’t exceed certain limits — the contribution is fully deductible on your 2016 tax return. Account growth is tax-deferred; distributions are subject to income tax.

2. Roth. The contribution isn’t deductible, but qualified distributions — including growth — are tax-free. Income-based limits, however, may reduce or eliminate your ability to contribute.

3. Nondeductible traditional. If your income is too high for you to fully benefit from a deductible traditional or a Roth contribution, you may benefit from a nondeductible contribution to a traditional IRA. The account can still grow tax-deferred, and when you take qualified distributions you’ll be taxed only on the growth. Alternatively, shortly after contributing, you may be able to convert the account to a Roth IRA with minimal tax liability.

Want to know which option best fits your situation? Contact us.


If last year your business made repairs to tangible property, such as buildings, machinery, equipment or vehicles, you may be eligible for a valuable deduction on your 2016 income tax return. But you must make sure they were truly “repairs,” and not actually “improvements.”
Why? Costs incurred to improve tangible property must be depreciated over a period of years. But costs incurred on incidental repairs and maintenance can be expensed and immediately deducted.
What’s an “improvement”?
In general, a cost that results in an improvement to a building structure or any of its building systems (for example, the plumbing or electrical system) or to other tangible property must be capitalized. An improvement occurs if there was a betterment, restoration or adaptation of the unit of property.
Under the “betterment test,” you generally must capitalize amounts paid for work that is reasonably expected to materially increase the productivity, efficiency, strength, quality or output of a unit of property or that is a material addition to a unit of property.
Under the “restoration test,” you generally must capitalize amounts paid to replace a part (or combination of parts) that is a major component or a significant portion of the physical structure of a unit of property.
Under the “adaptation test,” you generally must capitalize amounts paid to adapt a unit of property to a new or different use — one that isn’t consistent with your ordinary use of the unit of property at the time you originally placed it in service.
2 safe harbors
Distinguishing between repairs and improvements can be difficult, but a couple of IRS safe harbors can help:
1. Routine maintenance safe harbor. Recurring activities dedicated to keeping property in efficient operating condition can be expensed. These are activities that your business reasonably expects to perform more than once during the property’s “class life,” as defined by the IRS.
Amounts incurred for activities outside the safe harbor don’t necessarily have to be capitalized, though. These amounts are subject to analysis under the general rules for improvements.
2. Small business safe harbor. For buildings that initially cost $1 million or less, qualified small businesses may elect to deduct the lesser of $10,000 or 2% of the unadjusted basis of the property for repairs, maintenance, improvements and similar activities each year. A qualified small business is generally one with gross receipts of $10 million or less.
There is also a de minimis safe harbor as well as an exemption for materials and supplies up to a certain threshold. Contact us for details on these safe harbors and exemptions and other ways to maximize your tangible property deductions.


Last year you may have made significant gifts to your children, grandchildren or other heirs as part of your estate planning strategy. Or perhaps you just wanted to provide loved ones with some helpful financial support. Regardless of the reason for making a gift, it’s important to know under what circumstances you’re required to file a gift tax return.
Some transfers require a return even if you don’t owe tax. And sometimes it’s desirable to file a return even if it isn’t required.
When filing is required
Generally, you’ll need to file a gift tax return for 2016 if, during the tax year, you made gifts:
• That exceeded the $14,000-per-recipient gift tax annual exclusion (other than to your U.S. citizen spouse),
• That exceeded the $148,000 annual exclusion for gifts to a noncitizen spouse,
• That you wish to split with your spouse to take advantage of your combined $28,000 annual exclusions,
• To a Section 529 college savings plan for your child, grandchild or other loved one and wish to accelerate up to five years’ worth of annual exclusions ($70,000) into 2016,
• Of future interests — such as remainder interests in a trust — regardless of the amount, or
• Of jointly held or community property.
When filing isn’t required
No return is required if your gifts for the year consist solely of annual exclusion gifts, present interest gifts to a U.S. citizen spouse, qualifying educational or medical expenses paid directly to a school or health care provider, and political or charitable contributions.
If you transferred hard-to-value property, such as artwork or interests in a family-owned business, consider filing a gift tax return even if you’re not required to. Adequate disclosure of the transfer in a return triggers the statute of limitations, generally preventing the IRS from challenging your valuation more than three years after you file.
Meeting the deadline
The gift tax return deadline is the same as the income tax filing deadline. For 2016 returns, it’s April 18, 2017 (or October 16 if you file for an extension). If you owe gift tax, the payment deadline is also April 18, regardless of whether you file for an extension.
Have questions about gift tax and the filing requirements? Contact us to learn more.


Incentive stock options allow you to buy company stock in the future at a fixed price equal to or greater than the stock’s fair market value on the grant date. If the stock appreciates, you can buy shares at a price below what they’re then trading for. However, complex tax rules apply to this type of compensation.
Current tax treatment
ISOs must comply with many rules but receive tax-favored treatment:
• You owe no tax when ISOs are granted.
• You owe no regular income tax when you exercise ISOs, but there could be alternative minimum tax (AMT) consequences.
• If you sell the stock after holding the shares at least one year from the exercise date and two years from the grant date, you pay tax on the sale at your long-term capital gains rate. You also may owe the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT).
• If you sell the stock before long-term capital gains treatment applies, a “disqualifying disposition” occurs and any gain is taxed as compensation at ordinary-income rates.
So if you were granted ISOs in 2016, there likely isn’t any impact on your 2016 income tax return. But if in 2016 you exercised ISOs or you sold stock you’d acquired via exercising ISOs, then it could affect your 2016 tax liability. And it’s important to properly report the exercise or sale on your return to avoid potential interest and penalties for underpayment of tax.
Future exercises and stock sales
If you receive ISOs in 2017 or already hold ISOs that you haven’t yet exercised, plan carefully when to exercise them. Waiting to exercise ISOs until just before the expiration date (when the stock value may be the highest, assuming the stock is appreciating) may make sense. But exercising ISOs earlier can be advantageous in some situations.
Once you’ve exercised ISOs, the question is whether to immediately sell the shares received or to hold on to them long enough to garner long-term capital gains treatment. The latter strategy often is beneficial from a tax perspective, but there’s also market risk to consider. For example, it may be better to sell the stock in a disqualifying disposition and pay the higher ordinary-income rate if it would avoid AMT on potentially disappearing appreciation.
The timing of the sale of stock acquired via an exercise could also positively or negatively affect your liability for higher ordinary-income tax rates, the top long-term capital gains rate and the NIIT.
Planning ahead
Keep in mind that the NIIT is part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and lawmakers in Washington are starting to take steps to repeal or replace the ACA. So the NIIT may not be a factor in the future. In addition, tax law changes are expected later this year that might include elimination of the AMT and could reduce ordinary and long-term capital gains rates for some taxpayers. When changes might go into effect and exactly what they’ll be is still uncertain.
If you’ve received ISOs, contact us. We can help you ensure you’re reporting everything properly on your 2016 return and evaluate the risks and crunch the numbers to determine the best strategy for you going forward.


Investment interest — interest on debt used to buy assets held for investment, such as margin debt used to buy securities — generally is deductible for both regular tax and alternative minimum tax purposes. But special rules apply that can make this itemized deduction less beneficial than you might think.
Limits on the deduction
First, you can’t deduct interest you incurred to produce tax-exempt income. For example, if you borrow money to invest in municipal bonds, which are exempt from federal income tax, you can’t deduct the interest.
Second, and perhaps more significant, your investment interest deduction is limited to your net investment income, which, for the purposes of this deduction, generally includes taxable interest, nonqualified dividends and net short-term capital gains, reduced by other investment expenses. In other words, long-term capital gains and qualified dividends aren’t included.
However, any disallowed interest is carried forward. You can then deduct the disallowed interest in a later year if you have excess net investment income.
Changing the tax treatment
You may elect to treat net long-term capital gains or qualified dividends as investment income in order to deduct more of your investment interest. But if you do, that portion of the long-term capital gain or dividend will be taxed at ordinary-income rates.
If you’re wondering whether you can claim the investment interest expense deduction on your 2016 return, please contact us. We can run the numbers to calculate your potential deduction or to determine whether you could benefit from treating gains or dividends differently to maximize your deduction.


There are many ways to save for a child’s or grandchild’s education. But one has annual contribution limits, and if you don’t make a 2016 contribution by December 31, the opportunity will be lost forever. We’re talking about Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).
How ESAs work
With an ESA, you contribute money now that the beneficiary can use later to pay qualified education expenses:
• Although contributions aren’t deductible, plan assets can grow tax-deferred, and distributions used for qualified education expenses are tax-free.
• You can contribute until the child reaches age 18 (except beneficiaries with special needs).
• You remain in control of the account — even after the child is of legal age.
• You can make rollovers to another qualifying family member.
Not just for college
One major advantage of ESAs over another popular education saving tool, the Section 529 plan, is that tax-free ESA distributions aren’t limited to college expenses; they also can fund elementary and secondary school costs. That means you can use ESA funds to pay for such qualified expenses as tutoring and private school tuition.
Another advantage is that you have more investment options. So ESAs are beneficial if you’d like to have direct control over how and where your contributions are invested.
Annual contribution limits
The annual contribution limit is $2,000 per beneficiary. However, the ability to contribute is phased out based on income.
The limit begins to phase out at a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $190,000 for married filing jointly and $95,000 for other filers. No contribution can be made when MAGI hits $220,000 and $110,000, respectively.
Maximizing ESA savings
Because the annual contribution limit is low, if you want to maximize your ESA savings, it’s important to contribute every year in which you’re eligible. The contribution limit doesn’t carry over from year to year. In other words, if you don’t make a $2,000 contribution in 2016, you can’t add that $2,000 to the 2017 limit and make a $4,000 contribution next year.
However, because the contribution limit applies on a per beneficiary basis, before contributing make sure no one else has contributed to an ESA on behalf of the same beneficiary. If someone else has, you’ll need to reduce your contribution accordingly.
Would you like more information about ESAs or other tax-advantaged ways to fund your child’s — or grandchild’s — education expenses? Contact us!


You may be aware of the rule that allows businesses to deduct bonuses employees have earned during a tax year if the bonuses are paid within 2½ months after the end of that year (by March 15 for a calendar-year company). But this favorable tax treatment isn’t always available.
For one thing, only accrual-basis taxpayers can take advantage of the 2½ month rule — cash-basis taxpayers must deduct bonuses in the year they’re paid, regardless of when they’re earned. Even for accrual-basis taxpayers, however, the 2½ month rule isn’t automatic. The bonuses can be deducted in the year they’re earned only if the employer’s bonus liability is fixed by the end of the year.
The all-events test
For accrual-basis taxpayers, the IRS determines when a liability (such as a bonus) has been incurred — and, therefore, is deductible — by applying the “all-events test.” Under this test, a liability is deductible when:
1. All events have occurred that establish the taxpayer’s liability,
2. The amount of the liability can be determined with reasonable accuracy, and
3. Economic performance has occurred.
Generally, the third requirement isn’t an issue; it’s satisfied when an employee performs the services required to earn a bonus. But the first two requirements can delay your tax deduction until the year of payment, depending on how your bonus plan is designed.
For example, many bonus plans require an employee to remain in the company’s employ on the payment date as a condition of receiving the bonus. Even if the amount of the bonus is fixed at the end of the tax year, and employees who leave the company before the payment date forfeit their bonuses, the all-events test isn’t satisfied until the payment date. Fortunately, it’s possible to accelerate deductions with a carefully designed bonus pool arrangement.
How a bonus pool works
In a 2011 ruling, the IRS said that employers may deduct bonuses in the year they’re earned — even if there’s a risk of forfeiture — as long as any forfeited bonuses are reallocated among the remaining employees in the bonus pool rather than retained by the employer. Under such a plan, an employer satisfies the all-events test because the aggregate bonus amount is fixed at the end of the year, even though amounts allocated to specific employees aren’t determined until the payment date.
Additional rules and limits apply to this strategy. To learn whether your current bonus plan allows you to take 2016 deductions for bonuses paid in early 2017, contact us. If you don’t qualify this year, we can also help you design a bonus plan for 2017 that will allow you to accelerate deductions next year.


Donations to qualified charities are generally fully deductible, and they may be the easiest deductible expense to time to your tax advantage. After all, you control exactly when and how much you give. To ensure your donations will be deductible on your 2016 return, you must make them by year end to qualified charities.
When’s the delivery date?
To be deductible on your 2016 return, a charitable donation must be made by Dec. 31, 2016. According to the IRS, a donation generally is “made” at the time of its “unconditional delivery.” But what does this mean? Is it the date you, for example, write a check or make an online gift via your credit card? Or is it the date the charity actually receives the funds — or perhaps the date of the charity’s acknowledgment of your gift?
The delivery date depends in part on what you donate and how you donate it. Here are a few examples for common donations:
Check. The date you mail it.
Credit card. The date you make the charge.
Pay-by-phone account. The date the financial institution pays the amount.
Stock certificate. The date you mail the properly endorsed stock certificate to the charity.
Is the organization “qualified”?
To be deductible, a donation also must be made to a “qualified charity” — one that’s eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.
The IRS’s online search tool, Exempt Organizations (EO) Select Check, can help you more easily find out whether an organization is eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. You can access EO Select Check at http://apps.irs.gov/app/eos. Information about organizations eligible to receive deductible contributions is updated monthly.
Many additional rules apply to the charitable donation deduction, so please contact us if you have questions about the deductibility of a gift you’ve made or are considering making. But act soon — you don’t have much time left to make donations that will reduce your 2016 tax bill.


In order to take advantage of two important depreciation tax breaks for business assets, you must place the assets in service by the end of the tax year. So you still have time to act for 2016.
Section 179 deduction
The Sec. 179 deduction is valuable because it allows businesses to deduct as depreciation up to 100% of the cost of qualifying assets in year 1 instead of depreciating the cost over a number of years. Sec. 179 can be used for fixed assets, such as equipment, software and leasehold improvements. Beginning in 2016, air conditioning and heating units were added to the list.
The maximum Sec. 179 deduction for 2016 is $500,000. The deduction begins to phase out dollar-for-dollar for 2016 when total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceed $200,010,000.
Real property improvements used to be ineligible. However, an exception that began in 2010 was made permanent for tax years beginning in 2016. Under the exception, you can claim a Sec. 179 deduction of up to $500,000 for certain qualified real property improvement costs.
Note: You can use Sec. 179 to buy an eligible heavy SUV for business use, but the rules are different from buying other assets. Heavy SUVs are subject to a $25,000 deduction limitation.
First-year bonus depreciation
For qualified new assets (including software) that your business places in service in 2016, you can claim 50% first-year bonus depreciation. (Used assets don’t qualify.) This break is available when buying computer systems, software, machinery, equipment, and office furniture.
Additionally, 50% bonus depreciation can be claimed for qualified improvement property, which means any eligible improvement to the interior of a nonresidential building if the improvement is made after the date the building was first placed in service. However, certain improvements aren’t eligible, such as enlarging a building and installing an elevator or escalator.
Contemplate what your business needs now
If you’ve been thinking about buying business assets, consider doing it before year end. This article explains only some of the rules involved with the Sec. 179 and bonus depreciation tax breaks. Contact us for ideas on how you can maximize your depreciation deductions.


The last month or so of the year offers accrual-basis taxpayers an opportunity to make some timely moves that might enable them to save money on their 2016 tax bill.
Record and recognize
The key to saving tax as an accrual-basis taxpayer is to properly record and recognize expenses that were incurred this year but won’t be paid until 2017. This will enable you to deduct those expenses on your 2016 federal tax return. Common examples of such expenses include:
• Commissions, salaries and wages,
• Payroll taxes,
• Advertising,
• Interest,
• Utilities,
• Insurance, and
• Property taxes.
You can also accelerate deductions into 2016 without actually paying for the expenses in 2016 by charging them on a credit card. (This works for cash-basis taxpayers, too.) Accelerating deductible expenses into 2016 may be especially beneficial if tax rates go down for 2017, which could happen based on the outcome of the November election. Deductions save more tax when tax rates are higher.
Look at prepaid expenses
Also review all prepaid expense accounts and write off any items that have been used up before the end of the year. If you prepay insurance for a period of time beginning in 2016, you can expense the entire amount this year rather than spreading it between 2016 and 2017, as long as a proper method election is made. This is treated as a tax expense and thus won’t affect your internal financials.
Miscellaneous tax tips
Here are a few more year-end tax tips to consider:
• Review your outstanding receivables and write off any receivables you can establish as uncollectible.
• Pay interest on all shareholder loans to or from the company.
• Update your corporate record book to record decisions and be better prepared for an audit.
Consult us for more details on how these and other year-end tax strategies may apply to your business.


Saving for retirement can be tough if you’re putting most of your money and time into operating a small business. However, many retirement plans aren’t difficult to set up and it’s important to start saving so you can enjoy a comfortable future.
So if you haven’t already set up a tax-advantaged plan, consider doing so this year.
Note: If you have employees, they generally must be allowed to participate in the plan, provided they meet the qualification requirements.
Here are three options:
1. Profit-sharing plan. This is a defined contribution plan that allows discretionary employer contributions and flexibility in plan design. You can make deductible 2016 contributions as late as the due date of your 2016 tax return, including extensions — provided your plan exists on Dec. 31, 2016. For 2016, the maximum contribution is $53,000, or $59,000 if you are age 50 or older.
2. Simplified Employee Pension (SEP). This is also a defined contribution plan that provides benefits similar to those of a profit-sharing plan. But you can establish a SEP in 2017 and still make deductible 2016 contributions as late as the due date of your 2016 income tax return, including extensions. In addition, a SEP is easy to administer. For 2016, the maximum SEP contribution is $53,000.
3. Defined benefit plan. This plan sets a future pension benefit and then actuarially calculates the contributions needed to attain that benefit. The maximum annual benefit for 2016 is generally $210,000 or 100% of average earned income for the highest three consecutive years, if less. Because it’s actuarially driven, the contribution needed to attain the projected future annual benefit may exceed the maximum contributions allowed by other plans, depending on your age and the desired benefit. You can make deductible 2016 defined benefit plan contributions until your return due date, provided your plan exists on Dec. 31, 2016.
Contact us if you want more information about setting up the best retirement plan in your situation.


The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States could result in major tax law changes in 2017. Proposed changes spelled out in Trump’s tax reform plan released earlier this year that would affect businesses include:
• Reducing the top corporate income tax rate from 35% to 15%,
• Abolishing the corporate alternative minimum tax,
• Allowing owners of flow-through entities to pay tax on business income at the proposed 15% corporate rate rather than their own individual income tax rate, although there seems to be ambiguity on the specifics of how this provision would work,
• Eliminating the Section 199 deduction, also commonly referred to as the manufacturers’ deduction or the domestic production activities deduction, as well as most other business breaks — but, notably, not the research credit,
• Allowing U.S. companies engaged in manufacturing to choose the full expensing of capital investment or the deductibility of interest paid, and
• Enacting a deemed repatriation of currently deferred foreign profits at a 10% tax rate.
President-elect Trump’s tax plan is somewhat different from the House Republicans’ plan. With Republicans retaining control of both chambers of Congress, some sort of overhaul of the U.S. tax code is likely. That said, Republicans didn’t reach the 60 Senate members necessary to become filibuster-proof, which means they may need to compromise on some issues in order to get their legislation through the Senate.
So there’s still uncertainty as to which specific tax changes will ultimately make it into legislation and be signed into law.
It may make sense to accelerate deductible expenses into 2016 that might not be deductible in 2017 and to defer income to 2017, when it might be subject to a lower tax rate. But there is some risk to these strategies, given the uncertainty as to exactly what tax law changes will be enacted. Plus no single strategy is right for every business. Please contact us to develop the best year-end strategy for your business.


Nonqualified deferred compensation (NQDC) plans pay executives at some time in the future for services to be currently performed. They differ from qualified plans, such as 401(k)s, in that:
• NQDC plans can favor certain highly compensated employees,
• Although the executive’s tax liability on the deferred income also may be deferred, the employer can’t deduct the NQDC until the executive recognizes it as income, and
• Any NQDC plan funding isn’t protected from the employer’s creditors.
They also differ in terms of some of the rules that apply to them, and it’s critical to be aware of those rules.
What you need to know
Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 409A and related IRS guidance have tightened and clarified the rules for NQDC plans. Some of the most important rules to be aware of affect:
Timing of initial deferral elections. Executives must make the initial deferral election before the year in which they perform the services for which the compensation is earned. So, for instance, if you wish to defer part of your 2017 compensation to 2018 or beyond, you generally must make the election by the end of 2016.
Timing of distributions. Benefits must be paid on a specified date, according to a fixed payment schedule or after the occurrence of a specified event — such as death, disability, separation from service, change in ownership or control of the employer, or an unforeseeable emergency.
Elections to change timing or form. The timing of benefits can be delayed but not accelerated. Elections to change the timing or form of a payment must be made at least 12 months in advance. Also, new payment dates must be at least five years after the date the payment would otherwise have been made.
Employment tax issues
Another important NQDC tax issue is that employment taxes are generally due when services are performed or when there’s no longer a substantial risk of forfeiture, whichever is later. This is true even though the compensation isn’t actually paid or recognized for income tax purposes until later years. So your employer may:
• Withhold your portion of the tax from your salary,
• Ask you to write a check for the liability, or
• Pay your portion, in which case you’ll have additional taxable income.
Consequences of noncompliance
The penalties for noncompliance can be severe: Plan participants (that is, you, the executive) will be taxed on plan benefits at the time of vesting, and a 20% penalty and potential interest charges also will apply. So if you’re receiving NQDC, you should check with your employer to make sure it’s addressing any compliance issues. And we can help incorporate your NQDC or other executive compensation into your year-end tax planning and a comprehensive tax planning strategy for 2016 and beyond.


Many tax breaks are reduced or eliminated for higher-income taxpayers. Two of particular note are the itemized deduction reduction and the personal exemption phaseout.
Income thresholds
If your adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds the applicable threshold, most of your itemized deductions will be reduced by 3% of the AGI amount that exceeds the threshold (not to exceed 80% of otherwise allowable deductions). For 2016, the thresholds are $259,400 (single), $285,350 (head of household), $311,300 (married filing jointly) and $155,650 (married filing separately). The limitation doesn’t apply to deductions for medical expenses, investment interest, or casualty, theft or wagering losses.
Exceeding the applicable AGI threshold also could cause your personal exemptions to be reduced or even eliminated. The personal exemption phaseout reduces exemptions by 2% for each $2,500 (or portion thereof) by which a taxpayer’s AGI exceeds the applicable threshold (2% for each $1,250 for married taxpayers filing separately).
The limits in action
These AGI-based limits can be very costly to high-income taxpayers. Consider this example:
Steve and Mary are married and have four dependent children. In 2016, they expect to have an AGI of $1 million and will be in the top tax bracket (39.6%). Without the AGI-based exemption phaseout, their $24,300 of personal exemptions ($4,050 × 6) would save them $9,623 in taxes ($24,300 × 39.6%). But because their personal exemptions are completely phased out, they’ll lose that tax benefit.
The AGI-based itemized deduction reduction can also be expensive. Steve and Mary could lose the benefit of as much as $20,661 [3% × ($1 million − $311,300)] of their itemized deductions that are subject to the reduction — at a tax cost as high as $8,182 ($20,661 × 39.6%).
These two AGI-based provisions combined could increase the couple’s tax by $17,805!
Year-end tips
If your AGI is close to the applicable threshold, AGI-reduction strategies — such as contributing to a retirement plan or Health Savings Account — may allow you to stay under it. If that’s not possible, consider the reduced tax benefit of the affected deductions before implementing strategies to accelerate deductible expenses into 2016. If you expect to be under the threshold in 2017, you may be better off deferring certain deductible expenses to next year.
For more details on these and other income-based limits, help assessing whether you’re likely to be affected by them or more tips for reducing their impact, please contact us.


Section 529 plans provide a tax-advantaged way to help pay for college expenses. Here are just a few of the benefits:
• Although contributions aren’t deductible for federal purposes, plan assets can grow tax-deferred.
• Some states offer tax incentives for contributing in the form of deductions or credits.
• The plans usually offer high contribution limits, and there are no income limits for contributing.
Prepaid tuition plans
With this type of 529 plan, if your contract is for four years of tuition, tuition is guaranteed regardless of its cost at the time the beneficiary actually attends the school. This can provide substantial savings if you invest when the child is still very young.
One downside is that there’s uncertainty in how benefits will be applied if the beneficiary attends a different school. Another is that the plan doesn’t cover costs other than tuition, such as room and board.
Savings plan
This type of 529 plan can be used to pay a student’s expenses at most postsecondary educational institutions. Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, supplies, computer equipment, software, Internet service and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and typically for state purposes as well, thus making the tax deferral a permanent savings.
The biggest downside may be that you don’t have direct control over investment decisions; you’re limited to the options the plan offers. Additionally, for funds already in the plan, you can make changes to your investment options only twice during the year or when you change beneficiaries.
But each time you make a new contribution to a 529 savings plan, you can select a different option for that contribution, regardless of how many times you contribute throughout the year. And every 12 months you can make a tax-free rollover to a different 529 plan for the same child.
As you can see, each 529 plan type has its pluses and minuses. Whether a prepaid tuition plan or a savings plan is better depends on your situation and goals. If you’d like help choosing, please contact us.


There’s a lot to think about when you change jobs, and it’s easy for a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan to get lost in the shuffle. But to keep building tax-deferred savings, it’s important to make an informed decision about your old plan. First and foremost, don’t take a lump-sum distribution from your old employer’s retirement plan. It generally will be taxable and, if you’re under age 59½, subject to a 10% early-withdrawal penalty. Here are three tax-smart alternatives:
1. Stay put. You may be able to leave your money in your old plan. But if you’ll be participating in your new employer’s plan or you already have an IRA, keeping track of multiple plans can make managing your retirement assets more difficult. Also consider how well the old plan’s investment options meet your needs.
2. Roll over to your new employer’s plan. This may be beneficial if it leaves you with only one retirement plan to keep track of. But evaluate the new plan’s investment options.
3. Roll over to an IRA. If you participate in your new employer’s plan, this will require keeping track of two plans. But it may be the best alternative because IRAs offer nearly unlimited investment choices.
If you choose a rollover, request a direct rollover from your old plan to your new plan or IRA. If instead the funds are sent to you by check, you’ll need to make an indirect rollover (that is, deposit the funds into an IRA) within 60 days to avoid tax and potential penalties.
Also, be aware that the check you receive from your old plan will, unless an exception applies, be net of 20% federal income tax withholding. If you don’t roll over the gross amount (making up for the withheld amount with other funds), you’ll be subject to income tax — and potentially the 10% penalty — on the difference.
There are additional issues to consider when deciding what to do with your old retirement plan. We can help you make an informed decision — and avoid potential tax traps.


Typically, it’s better to defer tax. One way is through controlling when your business recognizes income and incurs deductible expenses. Here are two timing strategies that can help businesses do this:
1. Defer income to next year. If your business uses the cash method of accounting, you can defer billing for your products or services. Or, if you use the accrual method, you can delay shipping products or delivering services.
2. Accelerate deductible expenses into the current year. If you’re a cash-basis taxpayer, you may make a state estimated tax payment before Dec. 31, so you can deduct it this year rather than next. Both cash- and accrual-basis taxpayers can charge expenses on a credit card and deduct them in the year charged, regardless of when the credit card bill is paid.
But if you think you’ll be in a higher tax bracket next year (or you expect tax rates to go up), consider taking the opposite approach instead — accelerating income and deferring deductible expenses. This will increase your tax bill this year but can save you tax over the two-year period.
These are only some of the nuances to consider. Please contact us to discuss what timing strategies will work to your tax advantage, based on your specific situation.


Section 529 plans provide a tax-advantaged way to help pay for college expenses. Here are just a few of the benefits:
• Although contributions aren’t deductible for federal purposes, plan assets can grow tax-deferred.
• Some states offer tax incentives for contributing in the form of deductions or credits.
• The plans usually offer high contribution limits, and there are no income limits for contributing.
Prepaid tuition plans
With this type of 529 plan, if your contract is for four years of tuition, tuition is guaranteed regardless of its cost at the time the beneficiary actually attends the school. This can provide substantial savings if you invest when the child is still very young.
One downside is that there’s uncertainty in how benefits will be applied if the beneficiary attends a different school. Another is that the plan doesn’t cover costs other than tuition, such as room and board.
Savings plan
This type of 529 plan can be used to pay a student’s expenses at most postsecondary educational institutions. Distributions used to pay qualified expenses (such as tuition, mandatory fees, books, supplies, computer equipment, software, Internet service and, generally, room and board) are income-tax-free for federal purposes and typically for state purposes as well, thus making the tax deferral a permanent savings.
The biggest downside may be that you don’t have direct control over investment decisions; you’re limited to the options the plan offers. Additionally, for funds already in the plan, you can make changes to your investment options only twice during the year or when you change beneficiaries.
But each time you make a new contribution to a 529 savings plan, you can select a different option for that contribution, regardless of how many times you contribute throughout the year. And every 12 months you can make a tax-free rollover to a different 529 plan for the same child.
As you can see, each 529 plan type has its pluses and minuses. Whether a prepaid tuition plan or a savings plan is better depends on your situation and goals. If you’d like help choosing, please contact us.


If you have incomplete or missing records and get audited by the IRS, your business will likely lose out on valuable deductions. Here are two recent U.S. Tax Court cases that help illustrate the rules for documenting deductions.
Case 1: Insufficient records
In the first case, the court found that a taxpayer with a consulting business provided no proof to substantiate more than $52,000 in advertising expenses and $12,000 in travel expenses for the two years in question.
The business owner said the travel expenses were incurred ”caring for his business.“ That isn’t enough. ”The taxpayer bears the burden of proving that claimed business expenses were actually incurred and were ordinary and necessary,“ the court stated. In addition, businesses must keep and produce ”records sufficient to enable the IRS to determine the correct tax liability.“ (TC Memo 2016-158)
Case 2: Documents destroyed
In another case, a taxpayer was denied many of the deductions claimed for his company. He traveled frequently for the business, which developed machine parts. In addition to travel, meals and entertainment, he also claimed printing and consulting deductions.
The taxpayer recorded expenses in a spiral notebook and day planner and kept his records in a leased storage unit. While on a business trip to China, his documents were destroyed after the city where the storage unit was located acquired it by eminent domain.
There’s a way for taxpayers to claim expenses if substantiating documents are lost through circumstances beyond their control (for example, in a fire or flood). However, the court noted that a taxpayer still has to ”undertake a ‘reasonable reconstruction,’ which includes substantiation through secondary evidence.“
The court allowed 40% of the taxpayer’s travel, meals and entertainment expenses, but denied the remainder as well as the consulting and printing expenses. The reason? The taxpayer didn’t reconstruct those expenses through third-party sources or testimony from individuals whom he’d paid. (TC Memo 2016-135)
Be prepared
Keep detailed, accurate records to protect your business deductions. Record details about expenses as soon as possible after they’re incurred (for example, the date, place, business purpose, etc.). Keep more than just proof of payment. Also keep other documents, such as receipts, credit card slips and invoices. If you’re unsure of what you need, check with us.


If you recently redeemed frequent flyer miles to treat the family to a fun summer vacation or to take your spouse on a romantic getaway, you might assume that there are no tax implications involved. And you’re probably right — but there is a chance your miles could be taxable.
Usually tax free
As a general rule, miles awarded by airlines for flying with them are considered nontaxable rebates, as are miles awarded for using a credit or debit card.
The IRS partially addressed the issue in Announcement 2002-18, where it said “Consistent with prior practice, the IRS will not assert that any taxpayer has understated his federal tax liability by reason of the receipt or personal use of frequent flyer miles or other in-kind promotional benefits attributable to the taxpayer’s business or official travel.”
Exceptions
There are, however, some types of mile awards the IRS might view as taxable. Examples include miles awarded as a prize in a sweepstakes and miles awarded as a promotion.
For instance, in Shankar v. Commissioner, the U.S. Tax Court sided with the IRS, finding that airline miles awarded in conjunction with opening a bank account were indeed taxable. Part of the evidence of taxability was the fact that the bank had issued Forms 1099 MISC to customers who’d redeemed the rewards points to purchase airline tickets.
The value of the miles for tax purposes generally is their estimated retail value.
If you’re concerned you’ve received mile awards that could be taxable, please contact us and we’ll help you determine your tax liability, if any.


Last year a break valued by many charitably inclined retirees was made permanent: the charitable IRA rollover. If you’re age 70½ or older, you can make direct contributions — up to $100,000 annually — from your IRA to qualified charitable organizations without owing any income tax on the distributions.
Satisfy your RMD
A charitable IRA rollover can be used to satisfy required minimum distributions (RMDs). You must begin to take annual RMDs from your traditional IRAs in the year in which you reach age 70½. If you don’t comply, you can owe a penalty equal to 50% of the amount you should have withdrawn but didn’t. (An RMD deferral is allowed for the initial year, but you’ll have to take two RMDs the next year.)
So if you don’t need the RMD for your living expenses, a charitable IRA rollover can be a great way to comply with the RMD requirement without triggering the tax liability that would occur if the RMD were paid out to you.
Additional benefits
You might be able to achieve a similar tax result from taking the RMD payout and then contributing that amount to charity. But it’s more complex because you must report the RMD as income and then take an itemized deduction for the donation. This has two more possible downsides:
• The reported RMD income might increase your income to the point that you’re pushed into a higher tax bracket, certain additional taxes are triggered and/or the benefits of certain tax breaks are reduced or eliminated. It could even cause Social Security payments to become taxable or increase income-based Medicare premiums and prescription drug charges.

• If your donation would equal a large portion of your income for the year, your deduction might be reduced due to the percentage-of-income limit. You generally can’t deduct cash donations that exceed 50% of your adjusted gross income for the year. (Lower limits apply to donations of long-term appreciated securities or made to private foundations.) You can carry forward the excess up to five years, but if you make large donations every year, that won’t help you.
A charitable IRA rollover avoids these potential negative tax consequences.
Have questions about charitable IRA rollovers or other giving strategies? Please contact us. We can help you create a giving plan that will meet your charitable goals and maximize your tax savings.


You can only deduct losses from an S corporation, partnership or LLC if you “materially participate” in the business. If you don’t, your losses are generally “passive” and can only be used to offset income from other passive activities. Any excess passive loss is suspended and must be carried forward to future years.
Material participation is determined based on the time you spend in a business activity. For most business owners, the issue rarely arises — you probably spend more than 40 hours working on your enterprise. However, there are situations when the IRS questions participation.
Several tests
To materially participate, you must spend time on an activity on a regular, continuous and substantial basis.
You must also generally meet one of the tests for material participation. For example, a taxpayer must:
1. Work 500 hours or more during the year in the activity,
2. Participate in the activity for more than 100 hours during the year, with no one else working more than the taxpayer, or
3. Materially participate in the activity for any five taxable years during the 10 tax years immediately preceding the taxable year. This can apply to a business owner in the early years of retirement.
There are other situations in which you can qualify for material participation. For example, you can qualify if the business is a personal service activity (such as medicine or law). There are also situations, such as rental businesses, where it is more difficult to claim material participation. In those trades or businesses, you must work more hours and meet additional tests.
Proving your involvement
In some cases, a taxpayer does materially participate, but can’t prove it to the IRS. That’s where good recordkeeping comes in. A good, contemporaneous diary or log can forestall an IRS challenge. Log visits to customers or vendors and trips to sites and banks, as well as time spent doing Internet research. Indicate the time spent. If you’re audited, it will generally occur several years from now. Without good records, you’ll have trouble remembering everything you did.
Passive activity losses are a complicated area of the tax code. Consult with your tax adviser for more information on your situation.


With health care costs continuing to climb, tax-friendly ways to pay for these expenses are more attractive than ever. Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) and Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRAs) all provide opportunities for tax-advantaged funding of health care expenses. But what’s the difference between these three accounts? Here’s an overview:
HSA. If you’re covered by a qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP), you can contribute pretax income to an employer-sponsored HSA — or make deductible contributions to an HSA you set up yourself — up to $3,350 for self-only coverage and $6,750 for family coverage for 2016. Plus, if you’re age 55 or older, you may contribute an additional $1,000.
You own the account, which can bear interest or be invested, growing tax-deferred similar to an IRA. Withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free, and you can carry over a balance from year to year.
FSA. Regardless of whether you have an HDHP, you can redirect pretax income to an employer-sponsored FSA up to an employer-determined limit — not to exceed $2,550 in 2016. The plan pays or reimburses you for qualified medical expenses.
What you don’t use by the plan year’s end, you generally lose — though your plan might allow you to roll over up to $500 to the next year. Or it might give you a 2 1/2-month grace period to incur expenses to use up the previous year’s contribution. If you have an HSA, your FSA is limited to funding certain “permitted” expenses.
HRA. An HRA is an employer-sponsored account that reimburses you for medical expenses. Unlike an HSA, no HDHP is required. Unlike an FSA, any unused portion typically can be carried forward to the next year. And there’s no government-set limit on HRA contributions. But only your employer can contribute to an HRA; employees aren’t allowed to contribute.
Questions? We’d be happy to answer them — or discuss other ways to save taxes in relation to your health care expenses.


It seems like a simple question: How many full-time workers does your business employ? But, when it comes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the answer can be complicated.
The number of workers you employ determines whether your organization is an applicable large employer (ALE). Just because your business isn’t an ALE one year doesn’t mean it won’t be the next year.
50 is the magic number
Your business is an ALE if you had an average of 50 or more full time employees — including full-time equivalent employees — during the prior calendar year. Therefore, you’ll count the number of full time employees you have during 2016 to determine if you’re an ALE for 2017.
Under the law, an ALE:
• Is subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions with their potential penalties, and
• Must comply with certain information reporting requirements.
Calculating full-timers
A full-timer is generally an employee who works on average at least 30 hours per week, or at least 130 hours in a calendar month.
A full-time equivalent involves more than one employee, each of whom individually isn’t a full-timer, but who, in combination, are equivalent to a full-time employee.
Seasonal workers
If you’re hiring employees for summer positions, you may wonder how to count them. There’s an exception for workers who perform labor or services on a seasonal basis. An employer isn’t considered an ALE if its workforce exceeds 50 or more full-time employees in a calendar year because it employed seasonal workers for 120 days or less.
However, while the IRS states that retail workers employed exclusively for the holiday season are considered seasonal workers, the situation isn’t so clear cut when it comes to summer help. It depends on a number of factors.
We can help
Contact us for help calculating your full-time employees, including how to handle summer hires. We can help ensure your business complies with the ACA.


This year’s stock market volatility can be unnerving, but if you have a traditional IRA, this volatility may provide a valuable opportunity: It can allow you to convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA at a lower tax cost.
Traditional IRAs
Contributions to a traditional IRA may be deductible, depending on your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) and whether you participate in a qualified retirement plan, such as a 401(k). Funds in the account can grow tax-deferred.
On the downside, you generally must pay income tax on withdrawals, and, with only a few exceptions, you’ll face a penalty if you withdraw funds before age 59½ — and an even larger penalty if you don’t take your required minimum distributions (RMDs) after age 70½.
Roth IRAs
Roth IRA contributions, on the other hand, are never deductible. But withdrawals — including earnings — are tax-free as long as you’re age 59½ or older and the account has been open at least five years. In addition, you’re allowed to withdraw contributions at any time tax- and penalty-free.
There are also estate planning advantages to a Roth IRA. No RMD rules apply, so you can leave funds growing tax-free for as long as you wish. Then distributions to whoever inherits your Roth IRA will be income-tax-free as well.
The ability to contribute to a Roth IRA, however, is subject to limits based on your MAGI. Fortunately, anyone is eligible to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth. The catch? You’ll have to pay income tax on the amount you convert.
Saving tax
This is where the “benefit” of stock market volatility comes in. If your traditional IRA has lost value, converting to a Roth now rather than later will minimize your tax hit. Plus, you’ll avoid tax on future appreciation when the market stabilizes.
Of course, there are more ins and outs of IRAs that need to be considered before executing a Roth IRA conversion. If your interest is piqued, discuss with us whether a conversion is right for you.


If there was a college student in your family last year, you may be eligible for some valuable tax breaks on your 2015 return. To max out your education-related breaks, you need to see which ones you’re eligible for and then claim the one(s) that will provide the greatest benefit. In most cases you can take only one break per student, and, for some breaks, only one per tax return.
Credits vs. deductions
Tax credits can be especially valuable because they reduce taxes dollar-for-dollar; deductions reduce only the amount of income that’s taxed. A couple of credits are available for higher education expenses:
1. The American Opportunity credit — up to $2,500 per year per student for qualifying expenses for the first four years of postsecondary education.
2. The Lifetime Learning credit — up to $2,000 per tax return for postsecondary education expenses, even beyond the first four years.
But income-based phaseouts apply to these credits.
If you’re eligible for the American Opportunity credit, it will likely provide the most tax savings. If you’re not, the Lifetime Learning credit isn’t necessarily the best alternative.
Despite the dollar-for-dollar tax savings credits offer, you might be better off deducting up to $4,000 of qualified higher education tuition and fees. Because it’s an above-the-line deduction, it reduces your adjusted gross income, which could provide additional tax benefits. But income-based limits also apply to the tuition and fees deduction.
How much can your family save?
Keep in mind that, if you don’t qualify for breaks for your child’s higher education expenses because your income is too high, your child might. Many additional rules and limits apply to the credits and deduction, however. To learn which breaks your family might be eligible for on your 2015 tax returns — and which will provide the greatest tax savings — please contact us.


Today it’s becoming more common to work from home. But just because you have a home office space doesn’t mean you can deduct expenses associated with it.
Eligibility requirements
If you’re an employee, your use of your home office must be for your employer’s convenience, not just your own. If you’re self-employed, generally your home office must be your principal place of business, though there are exceptions.
Whether you’re an employee or self-employed, the space must be used regularly (not just occasionally) and exclusively for business purposes. If, for example, your home office is also a guest bedroom or your children do their homework there, you can’t deduct the expenses associated with that space.
A valuable break
If you are eligible, the home office deduction can be a valuable tax break. You may be able to deduct a portion of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, utilities and certain other expenses, as well as the depreciation allocable to the office space.
Or you can take the simpler “safe harbor” deduction in lieu of calculating, allocating and substantiating actual expenses. The safe harbor deduction is capped at $1,500 per year, based on $5 per square foot up to a maximum of 300 square feet.
More considerations
For employees, home office expenses are a miscellaneous itemized deduction. This means you’ll enjoy a tax benefit only if these expenses plus your other miscellaneous itemized expenses exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI).
If, however, you’re self-employed, you can deduct eligible home office expenses against your self-employment income.
Finally, be aware that we’ve covered only a few of the rules and limits here. If you think you may be eligible for the home office deduction, contact us for more information.


Bonus depreciation allows businesses to recover the costs of depreciable property more quickly by claiming additional first-year depreciation for qualified assets. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act) extended 50% bonus depreciation through 2017.
The break had expired December 31, 2014, for most assets. So the PATH Act may give you a tax-saving opportunity for 2015 you wouldn’t otherwise have had. Many businesses will benefit from claiming this break on their 2015 returns. But you might save more tax in the long run if you forgo it.
What assets are eligible
For 2015, new tangible property with a recovery period of 20 years or less (such as office furniture and equipment) qualifies for bonus depreciation. So does off-the-shelf computer software, water utility property and qualified leasehold-improvement property.
Acquiring the property in 2015 isn’t enough, however. You must also have placed the property in service in 2015.
Should you or shouldn’t you?
If you’re eligible for bonus depreciation and you expect to be in the same or a lower tax bracket in future years, taking bonus depreciation (to the extent you’ve exhausted any Section 179 expensing available to you) is likely a good tax strategy. It will defer tax, which generally is beneficial.
But if your business is growing and you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in the near future, you may be better off forgoing bonus depreciation. Why? Even though you’ll pay more tax for 2015, you’ll preserve larger depreciation deductions on the property for future years, when they may be more powerful — deductions save more tax when you’re in a higher bracket.
We can help
If you’re unsure whether you should take bonus depreciation on your 2015 return — or you have questions about other depreciation-related breaks, such as Sec. 179 expensing — contact us.


Retirement plan contribution limits are indexed for inflation, but with inflation remaining low, the limits remain unchanged for 2016:
Type of limit 2016 limit
Elective deferrals to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans $18,000
Contributions to defined contribution plans $53,000
Contributions to SIMPLEs $12,500
Contributions to IRAs $5,500
Catch-up contributions to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1) plans $6,000
Catch-up contributions to SIMPLEs $3,000
Catch-up contributions to IRAs $1,000
Nevertheless, if you’re not already maxing out your contributions, you still have an opportunity to save more in 2016. And if you turn age 50 in 2016, you can begin to take advantage of catch-up contributions.

However, keep in mind that additional factors may affect how much you’re allowed to contribute (or how much your employer can contribute on your behalf). For example, income-based limits may reduce or eliminate your ability to make Roth IRA contributions or to make deductible traditional IRA contributions. If you have questions about how much you can contribute to tax-advantaged retirement plans in 2016, check with us.


Many valuable tax breaks expired December 31, 2014. For them to be available for 2015, Congress had to pass legislation extending them — which it now has done, with the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act), signed into law by the President on December 18. The PATH Act not only revives expired breaks for 2015 but also makes many breaks permanent, generally extends the rest through either 2016 or 2019, and enhances some breaks.
Here is a sampling of extended breaks that may benefit you or your business:
• The deduction for state and local sales taxes in lieu of state and local income taxes (extended permanently),
• Tax-free IRA distributions to charities (extended permanently),
• Bonus depreciation (extended through 2019, but with reduced benefits for 2018 and 2019),
• Enhanced Section 179 expensing (extended permanently and further enhanced beginning in 2016),
• Accelerated depreciation for qualified leasehold-improvement, restaurant and retail improvement property (extended permanently),
• The research tax credit (extended permanently and enhanced beginning in 2016),
• The Work Opportunity credit (extended through 2019 and enhanced beginning in 2016), and
• Various energy-related tax incentives (extended through 2016).
Please contact us for more information on these and other breaks under the PATH Act. Keep in mind that, for you to take maximum advantage of certain extended breaks on your 2015 tax return, quick action may be required.


The year is quickly drawing to a close, but there’s still time to take steps to reduce your 2015 tax liability — you just must act by December 31:
1. Pay your 2015 property tax bill that’s due in early 2016.
2. Make your January 1 mortgage payment.
3. Incur deductible medical expenses (if your deductible medical expenses for the year already exceed the applicable floor).
4. Pay tuition for academic periods that will begin in January, February or March of 2016 (if it will make you eligible for a tax credit).
5. Donate to your favorite charities.
6. Sell investments at a loss to offset capital gains you’ve recognized this year.
7. Ask your employer if your bonus can be deferred until January.
Keep in mind, however, that in certain situations these strategies might not make sense. For example, if you’ll be subject to the alternative minimum tax this year or be in a higher tax bracket next year, taking some of these steps could have undesirable results.
If you’re unsure whether these steps are right for you, consult us before taking action.


From the Thanksgiving kick-off of the holiday season through December 31, many businesses find themselves short-staffed as employees take time off to spend with family and friends. But if you limit how many vacation days employees can roll over to the new year, you might find your workplace to be nearly a ghost town as employees scramble to use their time off rather than lose it.
A paid time off (PTO) contribution arrangement may be the solution. It allows employees with unused vacation hours to elect to convert them to retirement plan contributions. If the plan has a 401(k) feature, it can treat these amounts as a pretax benefit, similar to normal employee deferrals. Alternatively, the plan can treat the amounts as employer profit sharing, converting the excess PTO amounts to employer contributions.
A PTO contribution arrangement can be a better option than increasing the number of days employees can roll over. Why? Larger rollover limits can result in employees building up large balances that create a significant liability on your books.
To offer a PTO contribution arrangement, you simply need to amend your plan. However, you must still follow the plan document’s eligibility, vesting, rollover, distribution and loan terms, and additional rules apply.
To learn more about PTO contribution arrangements, including their tax implications, please contact us.


The additional Medicare tax and net investment income tax (NIIT) apply when certain income exceeds the applicable threshold: $250,000 for married filing jointly, $125,000 for married filing separately, and $200,000 for other taxpayers. The following types of executive compensation could be subject to the 0.9% additional Medicare tax if your earned income exceeds the applicable threshold: • Fair market value (FMV) of restricted stock once the stock is no longer subject to risk of forfeiture or it’s sold • FMV of restricted stock when it’s awarded if you make a Section 83(b) election • Bargain element of nonqualified stock options when exercised • Nonqualified deferred compensation once the services have been performed and there’s no longer a substantial risk of forfeiture And the following types of gains from exec comp will be included in net investment income and could be subject to the 3.8% NIIT if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds the applicable threshold: • Gain on the sale of restricted stock if you’ve made the Sec. 83(b) election • Gain on the sale of stock from an incentive stock option exercise if you meet the holding requirements Concerned about how your exec comp will be taxed? Please contact us. We can help you assess the potential tax impact and implement strategies to reduce it.


Medical expenses that aren’t reimbursable by insurance or paid through a tax-advantaged account (such as a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account) may be deductible — but generally only to the extent that they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. Taxpayers age 65 and older can enjoy a 7.5% floor through 2016. The floor for alternative minimum tax purposes, however, is 10% for all taxpayers. By “bunching” nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into alternating years, you may increase your ability to exceed the applicable floor. Controllable expenses might include prescription drugs, eyeglasses and contact lenses, hearing aids, dental work, and elective surgery. If it’s looking like you’re close to exceeding the floor in 2015, consider accelerating controllable expenses into this year. But if you’re far from exceeding it, to the extent possible (without harming your or your family’s health), you might want to put off medical expenses until next year, in case you have enough expenses in 2016 to exceed the floor. For more information on how to bunch deductions or exactly what expenses are deductible, please contact us.


Here’s a simplified way to project your estate tax exposure. Take the value of your estate, net of any debts. Also subtract any assets that will pass to charity on your death. Then, if you’re married and your spouse is a U.S. citizen, subtract any assets you’ll pass to him or her. Those assets qualify for the marital deduction and avoid potential estate tax exposure until the surviving spouse dies. The net number represents your taxable estate. You can transfer up to your available exemption amount at death free of federal estate taxes. So if your taxable estate is equal to or less than the estate tax exemption (for 2015, $5.43 million) reduced by any gift tax exemption you used during your life, no federal estate tax will be due when you die. But if your taxable estate exceeds this amount, it will be subject to estate tax. Many states, however, now impose estate tax at a lower threshold than the federal government does, so you’ll also need to consider the rules in your state. If you’re not sure whether you’re at risk for the estate tax or if you’d like to learn about gift and estate planning strategies to reduce your potential liability, please contact us.


The tax treatment of investment income varies, and not just based on whether the income is in the form of dividends or interest. Qualified dividends are taxed at the favorable long-term capital gains tax rate (generally 15% or 20%) rather than at the applicable ordinary-income tax rate (which might be as high as 39.6%). Interest income generally is taxed at ordinary-income rates. So stocks that pay qualified dividends may be more attractive tax-wise than other income investments, such as CDs and taxable bonds. But there are exceptions. For example, some dividends aren’t qualified and therefore are subject to ordinary-income rates, such as certain dividends from: • Real estate investment trusts (REITs), • Regulated investment companies (RICs), • Money market mutual funds, and • Certain foreign investments. Also, the tax treatment of bond income varies. For example: • Interest on U.S. government bonds is taxable on federal returns but exempt on state and local returns. • Interest on state and local government bonds is excludable on federal returns. If the bonds were issued in your home state, interest also might be excludable on your state return. • Corporate bond interest is fully taxable for federal and state purposes. While tax treatment shouldn’t drive investment decisions, it’s one factor to consider — especially when it comes to income investments. For help factoring taxes into your investment strategy, contact us.


If your business exports American-made goods or performs architectural or engineering services for foreign construction projects, an interest-charge domestic international sales corporation (IC-DISC) can help slash your tax bill. An IC-DISC is a “paper” corporation you set up to receive commissions on export sales, up to the greater of 50% of net income or 4% of gross receipts from qualified exports. Your business deducts the commission payments, while distributions received from the IC-DISC are treated as qualified dividends, not capital gains. Essentially, an IC-DISC allows you to convert ordinary income taxed at rates as high as 39.6% into dividends taxed at 15% or 20%. An IC-DISC also allows you to defer taxes on up to $10 million in commissions held by the IC-DISC by paying a modest interest charge to the IRS. Think an IC-DISC might be right for you? Contact us for more information.


If you’re a collector, donating from your collection instead of your bank account or investment portfolio can be tax-smart. When you donate appreciated property rather than selling it, you avoid the capital gains tax you would have incurred on a sale. And long-term gains on collectibles are subject to a higher maximum rate (28%) than long-term gains on most long-term property (15% or 20%, depending on your tax bracket) — so you can save even more taxes. But choose the charity wisely. For you to receive a deduction equal to fair market value rather than your basis in the collectible, the item must be consistent with the charity’s purpose, such as an antique to a historical society. Properly substantiating the donation is also critical, and this may include an appraisal. If you donate works of art with a collective value of $5,000 or more, you’ll need a qualified appraisal, and if the collective value is $20,000 or more, a copy of the appraisal must be attached to your tax return. If an individual item is valued at $20,000 or more, you may also be required to provide a photograph of that item. If you’re considering a donation of artwork or other collectibles, contact us for help ensuring you can maximize your tax deduction.


By distributing profits in the form of dividends rather than salary, an S corporation and its owners can avoid payroll taxes on these amounts. Because of the additional 0.9% Medicare tax on wages in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers and $125,000 for married filing separately), the potential tax savings may be even greater than it once would have been. (S corporation dividends paid to shareholder-employees generally won’t be subject to the 3.8% net investment income tax.) But paying little or no salary to S corporation shareholder-employees is risky. The IRS has targeted S corporations, assessing unpaid payroll taxes, penalties and interest against companies whose owners’ salaries are unreasonably low. To avoid such a result, S corporations should establish and document reasonable salaries for each position using compensation surveys, company financial data and other evidence. Do you have questions about compensating S corporation shareholder-employees? Contact us — we can help you determine the mix of salary and dividends that can keep tax liability as low as possible while standing up to IRS scrutiny.


With nonqualified stock options (NQSOs), if the stock appreciates beyond your exercise price, you can buy shares at a price below what they’re trading for. This is the same as for the perhaps better-known incentive stock options (ISOs). The tax treatment of NQSOs, however, differs from that of ISOs: NQSOs create compensation income — taxed at ordinary-income rates — on the “bargain element” (the difference between the stock’s fair market value and the exercise price) when exercised. This is regardless of whether the stock is held or sold immediately. Also, NQSO exercises don’t create an alternative minimum tax (AMT) preference item that can trigger AMT liability. When you exercise NQSOs, you may need to make estimated tax payments or increase withholding to fully cover the tax. Keep in mind that an exercise could trigger or increase exposure to top tax rates, the additional 0.9% Medicare tax and the 3.8% net investment income tax. Have tax questions about NQSOs or other stock-based compensation? Let us know — we’d be happy to answer them.


If you usually receive a large federal income tax refund, you’re essentially making an interest-free loan to the IRS. Rather than wait until you file your 2015 tax return in 2016, why not begin enjoying your “refund” now by reducing your withholdings or estimated tax payments for the remainder of 2015? It’s particularly important to review your withholdings, and adjust them if necessary, when you experience a major life event, such as marriage, divorce, birth or adoption of a child, or a layoff suffered by you or your spouse. If you’d like help determining what your withholding or estimated tax payments should be for the second half of the year, please contact us.


On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. For federal tax purposes, same-sex married couples were already considered married, under the Court’s 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor and subsequent IRS guidance — even if their state of residence didn’t recognize their marriage. From a tax planning perspective, the latest ruling means that, in states where same-sex marriage hadn’t been recognized, same-sex married couples no longer will need to deal with the complications of being treated as married for federal tax purposes but not married for state tax purposes. So their tax and estate planning will be simplified and they can take advantage of state-level tax benefits for married couples. But in some cases, these couples will also be subject to some tax burdens, such as the “marriage penalty.” Same-sex married couples should review their tax planning strategies and estate plans to determine what new opportunities may be available to them and whether there are any new burdens they should plan for. Employers will need to keep a close eye on how these developments will affect their tax obligations in relation to employees who have same-sex spouses. Please contact us if you have questions.


Large employers: Time to start planning for ACA information reporting With the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 25 decision upholding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) yet again, employers subject to the act’s information reporting provision can no longer afford to put off planning in the hope that the requirements might go away. Beginning in 2016, “large” employers as defined by the act (generally employers with 50 or more full-time employees or the equivalent) must file Forms 1094 and 1095 to provide information to the IRS and plan participants about health coverage provided in the previous year (2015). Fortunately, recent IRS guidance helps clarify the reporting requirements. And a new IRS Q&A document addresses more specific issues that may arise while completing the forms. Keep in mind that, while some “midsize” employers (generally employers with 50 to 99 full-time employees or the equivalent) can qualify for an exemption from the play-or-pay provision in 2015 if they meet certain requirements, these employers still will be subject to the information reporting requirements. If your organization is among those required to file Forms 1094 and 1095 and you need help complying with the requirements, please contact us.


Opening the “back door” to a Roth IRA

A potential downside of tax-deferred saving through a traditional retirement plan is that you’ll have to pay taxes when you make withdrawals at retirement. Roth plans, on the other hand, allow tax-free distributions; the tradeoff is that contributions to these plans don’t reduce your current-year taxable income. Unfortunately, modified adjusted gross income (MAGI)-based phaseouts may reduce or eliminate your ability to contribute: • For married taxpayers filing jointly, the 2015 phaseout range is $183,000–$193,000. • For single and head-of-household taxpayers, the 2015 phaseout range is $116,000–$131,000. You can make a partial contribution if your MAGI falls within the applicable range, but no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range. If the income-based phaseout prevents you from making Roth IRA contributions and you don’t already have a traditional IRA, a “back door” IRA might be right for you. How does it work? You set up a traditional account and make a nondeductible contribution to it. You then wait until the transaction clears and convert the traditional account to a Roth account. The only tax due will be on any growth in the account between the time you made the contribution and the date of conversion.


Generally, you’ll need to file a gift tax return for 2014 if, during the tax year, you made gifts: • That exceeded the $14,000-per-recipient gift tax annual exclusion (other than to your U.S. citizen spouse), • That you wish to split with your spouse to take advantage of your combined $28,000 annual exclusions, or • Of future interests — such as remainder interests in a trust — regardless of the amount. If you transferred hard-to-value property, such as artwork or interests in a family-owned business, consider filing a gift tax return even if you’re not required to. Adequate disclosure of the transfer in a return triggers the statute of limitations, generally preventing the IRS from challenging your valuation more than three years after you file. There may be other instances where you’ll need to file a gift tax return — or where you won’t need to file one even though a gift exceeds your annual exclusion. Contact us for details. © 2015


If your business has made repairs to tangible property, such as buildings, machinery, equipment and vehicles, you may be eligible for a deduction on your 2014 income tax return. But you must make sure they were truly “repairs,” and not actually “improvements.” Why? Costs incurred to improve tangible property must be depreciated over a period of years. But costs incurred on incidental repairs and maintenance can be expensed and immediately deducted. Distinguishing between repairs and improvements can be difficult, but a couple of IRS safe harbors can help: Routine maintenance safe harbor. Recurring activities dedicated to keeping property in efficient operating condition can be expensed. These are activities that your business reasonably expects to perform more than once during the property’s “class life,” as defined by the IRS. Small business safe harbor. For buildings that initially cost $1 million or less, qualified small businesses may elect to deduct the lesser of $10,000 or 2% of the unadjusted basis of the property for repairs, maintenance, improvements and similar activities each year. (A qualified small business is generally one with gross receipts of $10 million or less.) Contact us to ensure that you’re taking all of the repair and maintenance deductions you’re entitled to. © 2015


Investment interest — interest on debt used to buy assets held for investment, such as margin debt used to buy securities — generally is deductible for both regular tax and alternative minimum tax purposes. But special rules apply that can make the deduction less beneficial than you might think. Your investment interest deduction is limited to your net investment income, which, for the purposes of this deduction, generally includes taxable interest, nonqualified dividends and net short-term capital gains, reduced by other investment expenses. In other words, long-term capital gains and qualified dividends aren’t included. However, any disallowed interest is carried forward, and you can deduct it in a later year if you have excess net investment income. You may elect to treat net long-term capital gains or qualified dividends as investment income in order to deduct more of your investment interest. But if you do, that portion of the long-term capital gain or dividend will be taxed at ordinary-income rates. If you’re wondering whether you can claim the investment interest expense deduction on your 2014 return, please contact us. We can run the numbers to calculate your potential deduction — or to determine whether you could benefit from treating gains or dividends differently to maximize your deduction. © 2015


If you don’t meet IRS substantiation requirements, your charitable deductions could be denied. To comply, generally you must obtain a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the charity stating the amount of the donation, whether you received any goods or services in consideration for the donation, and the value of any such goods or services. If you haven’t yet received substantiation for all of your 2014 donations, you may still have time to obtain it: “Contemporaneous” means the earlier of 1) the date you file your tax return, or 2) the extended due date of your return. So as long as you haven’t filed your 2014 return, you can contact the charity and request a written acknowledgement — you’ll just need to wait to file your return until you receive it. (But don’t miss your filing deadline; consider filing for an extension if needed.) Be aware that certain types of donations are subject to additional substantiation requirements. To learn what requirements apply to your donations, please contact us. © 2015


If you have a child in college, you may not qualify for the American Opportunity credit on your 2014 income tax return because your income is too high (modified adjusted gross income phaseout range of $80,000–$90,000; $160,000–$180,000 for joint filers), but your child might. The maximum credit, per student, is $2,500 per year for the first four years of postsecondary education. There’s one potential downside: If your dependent child claims the credit, you must forgo your dependency exemption for him or her — and the child can’t take the exemption. But because of the exemption phaseout, you might lose the benefit of your exemption anyway. The 2014 adjusted gross income thresholds for the exemption phaseout are $254,200 (singles), $279,650 (heads of households), $305,050 (married filing jointly) and $152,525 (married filing separately). If your exemption is fully phased out, there likely is no downside to your child taking the credit. If your exemption isn’t fully phased out, compare the tax savings your child would receive from the credit with the savings you’d receive from the exemption to determine which break will provide the greater overall savings for your family. We can help you run the numbers and can provide more information about qualifying for the American Opportunity credit. © 2015


The manufacturers’ deduction, also called the “Section 199” or “domestic production activities” deduction, is 9% of the lesser of qualified production activities income or taxable income. The deduction is also limited to 50% of W-2 wages paid by the taxpayer that are allocable to domestic production gross receipts. Yes, the deduction is available to traditional manufacturers. But businesses engaged in activities such as construction, engineering, architecture, computer software production and agricultural processing also may be eligible. The deduction isn’t allowed in determining net self-employment earnings and generally can’t reduce net income below zero. But it can be used against the alternative minimum tax. Contact us to learn whether this potentially powerful deduction could reduce your business’s tax liability when you file your 2014 return.


You probably know that miles driven for business purposes can be deductible. But did you know that you might also be able to deduct miles driven for other purposes? The rates vary depending on the purpose and the year: Business: 56 cents (2014), 57.5 cents (2015) Medical: 23.5 cents (2014), 23 cents (2015) Moving: 23.5 cents (2014), 23 cents (2015) Charitable: 14 cents (2014 and 2015) The rules surrounding the various mileage deductions are complex, however. Some are subject to floors and some require you to meet specific tests in order to qualify. There are also substantiation requirements, which include tracking miles driven. And, in some cases, you might be better off deducting actual expenses rather than using the mileage rates. So contact us to help ensure you deduct all the mileage you’re entitled to on your 2014 tax return -- but not more. (You don’t want to risk back taxes and penalties later.) And if you drove potentially eligible miles in 2014 but can’t deduct them because you didn’t track them, then start tracking your miles now so you can potentially take advantage of the deduction when you file your 2015 return next year.


If you’re like many Americans, you may not start thinking about filing your tax return until the April 15 deadline is just a few weeks — or perhaps even just a few days — away. But there’s another date you should keep in mind: Jan. 20. That’s the date the IRS began accepting 2014 returns, and filing as close to that date as possible could protect you from tax return fraud. In this increasingly common scam, thieves use victims’ personal information to file fraudulent tax returns electronically and claim bogus refunds. When the real taxpayers file, they’re notified that they’re attempting to file duplicate returns. Tax return fraud can cause major headaches to straighten out and significantly delay legitimate refunds. But if you file first, it will be the thief who’s filing the duplicate return, not you. Of course you need to have your W-2s and 1099s to file. So another key date to be aware of is Feb. 2 — the deadline for employers to issue 2014 W-2s to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue 1099s to recipients of any 2014 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments. Let us know if you have questions about tax return fraud or would like help filing your 2014 return early. © 2015


An annual estate plan checkup is critical to the health of your estate plan. Because various exclusion, exemption and deduction amounts are adjusted for inflation, they can change from year to year, impacting your plan: Lifetime gift and estate tax exemption • 2014: $5.34 million • 2015: $5.43 million Generation-skipping transfer tax exemption • 2014: $5.34 million • 2015: $5.43 million Annual gift tax exclusion • 2014: $14,000 • 2015: $14,000 Marital deduction for gifts to noncitizen spouse • 2014: $145,000 • 2015: $147,000 You may need to update your estate plan based on these changes. But the beginning of the year isn’t the only time for an estate plan checkup. Whenever there are significant changes in your family — such as births, deaths, marriages or divorces — it’s a good idea to revisit your estate plan. Your plan also merits a look any time your financial situation changes significantly. If you haven’t yet had your annual estate plan checkup, please contact us. Or, if you don’t yet have an estate plan, we can help you create one.


House and Senate lawmakers have started their August recess, leaving pending tax legislation for after Labor Day. In past years, September has been a busy month for tax legislation and this year is likely to be the same. Before leaving Capitol Hill, lawmakers took actions in several areas related to tax reform.


The IRS remains focused on an issue that doesn’t seem to be going away: the misclassification of workers as independent contractors rather than employees. Recently, the IRS issued still another fact sheet “reminding” employers about the importance of correctly classifying workers for purposes of federal employment taxes (FS-2017-9). Generally, employers must withhold income taxes, withhold and pay social security and Medicare taxes, and pay unemployment tax on wages paid to employees. They are lifted of these obligations entirely for independent contractors, with usually the only IRS-related responsibility being information reporting on amounts of $600 or more paid to a contractor.


A recent Tax Court decision and pending tax reform proposals have intersected in highlighting how stock sales can be timed for maximum tax advantage. The taxpayer in the recent case (Turan, TC Memo. 2017-141) failed to convince the Tax Court that he timely made an election with his broker to use the last-in-first-out (LIFO) method to set his cost-per-share cost basis for determining capital gains and losses on his stock trades on shares of the same company. As a result, he was required to calculate the capital gain or loss on his stock trades using the firm’s first-in-first-out (FIFO) “default” method, which, in his case, yielded a significant increase in tax liability for the year.


Country-by-Country (CbC) reporting is part of a larger initiative by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) known as the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project. CbC reporting generally impacts large multi-national businesses. Because CbC is part of BEPS it is important to be familiar with the core concepts.


An eligible taxpayer can deduct qualified interest on a qualified student loan for an eligible student's qualified educational expenses at an eligible institution. The amount of the deduction is limited, and it is phased out for taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds certain thresholds.


As an individual or business, it is your responsibility to be aware of and to meet your tax filing/reporting deadlines. This calendar summarizes important tax reporting and filing data for individuals, businesses and other taxpayers for the month of August 2017.


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