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Can you defer taxes on advance payments?

 

Many businesses receive payment in advance for goods and services. Examples include magazine subscriptions, long-term supply contracts, organization memberships, computer software licenses and gift cards.

Generally, advance payments are included in taxable income in the year they’re received, even if you defer a portion of the income for financial reporting purposes. But there are exceptions that might provide you some savings when you file your 2016 income tax return.

Deferral opportunities

The IRS allows limited deferral of income related to advance payments for:

• Goods or services,
• Intellectual property licenses or leases,
• Computer software sales, leases or licenses,
• Warranty contracts,
• Subscriptions,
• Certain organization memberships,
• Eligible gift card sales, and
• Any combination of the above.

In the year you receive an advance payment (Year 1), you may defer the same amount of income you defer in an “applicable financial statement.” The remaining income must be recognized in the following year (Year 2), regardless of the amount of income you recognize in Year 2 for financial reporting purposes. Let’s look at an example.

Fred and Ginger are in the business of giving dance lessons. On November 1, 2016, they receive an advance payment from Gene for a two-year contract that provides up to 96 one-hour lessons. Gene takes eight lessons in 2016, 48 lessons in 2017 and 40 lessons in 2018.

In their applicable financial statements, Fred and Ginger recognize 1/12 of the advance payment in their 2016 revenues, 6/12 in their 2017 revenues and 5/12 in their 2018 revenues. For federal income tax purposes, they need to include only 1/12 of the advance payment in their 2016 gross income. But they must include the remaining 11/12 in their 2017 gross income.

The applicable financial statement

An applicable financial statement is one that’s audited by an independent CPA or filed with the SEC or certain other government agencies. If you don’t have this statement, it’s still possible to defer income; you simply need a reasonable method for determining the extent to which advance payments are earned in Year 1.

Suppose, for example, that a company issues gift certificates but doesn’t track their use and doesn’t have an applicable financial statement. The company may be able to defer income based on a statistical study that indicates the percentage of gift certificates expected to be redeemed in Year 1.

If your business receives advance payments, consult your tax advisor to determine whether you can reduce your 2016 tax bill by deferring some of this income to 2017. And make sure you abide by the IRS’s rules on these payments.

© 2017

The tax-smart way to replace a business vehicle

Although a vehicle’s value typically drops fairly rapidly, the tax rules limit the amount of annual depreciation that can be claimed on most cars and light trucks. Thus, when it’s time to replace a vehicle used in business, it’s not unusual for its tax basis to be higher than its value. This can be costly tax-wise, depending on how you dispose of the vehicle:

Trade-in. If you trade a vehicle in on a new one, the undepreciated basis of the old vehicle simply tacks onto the basis of the new one — even though this extra basis generally doesn’t generate any additional current depreciation because of the annual depreciation limits.

Sale. If you sell the old vehicle rather than trading it in, any excess of basis over the vehicle’s value can be claimed as a deductible loss to the extent of your business use of the vehicle.

For example, if you sell a vehicle you’ve used 100% for business and it has an adjusted basis of $20,000 for $12,000, you’ll get an immediate write-off of $8,000 ($20,000 – $12,000). If you trade in the vehicle rather than selling it, the $20,000 adjusted basis is added to the new vehicle’s depreciable basis and, thanks to the annual depreciation limits, it may be years before any tax deductions are realized.

For details on the depreciation limits or more ideas on how to maximize your vehicle-related deductions, contact us.

© 2016

Help prevent tax identity theft by filing early

If you’re like many Americans, you might not start thinking about filing your tax return until close to this year’s April 18 deadline. You might even want to file for an extension so you don’t have to send your return to the IRS until October 16.

But there’s another date you should keep in mind: January 23. That’s the date the IRS will begin accepting 2016 returns, and filing as close to that date as possible could protect you from tax identity theft.

Why early filing helps

In an increasingly common scam, thieves use victims’ personal information to file fraudulent tax returns electronically and claim bogus refunds. This is usually done early in the tax filing season. When the real taxpayers file, they’re notified that they’re attempting to file duplicate returns.

A victim typically discovers the fraud after he or she files a tax return and is informed by the IRS that the return has been rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the same tax year. The IRS then must determine who the legitimate taxpayer is.

Tax identity theft can cause major headaches to straighten out and significantly delay legitimate refunds. But if you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a potential thief that will be rejected — not yours.

Another important date

Of course, in order to file your tax return, you’ll need to have your W-2s and 1099s. So another key date to be aware of is January 31 — the deadline for employers to issue 2016 W-2s to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue 1099s to recipients of any 2016 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments.

Delays for some refunds

The IRS reminded taxpayers claiming the earned income tax credit or the additional child tax credit to expect a longer wait for their refunds. A law passed in 2015 requires the IRS to hold refunds on tax returns claiming these credits until at least February 15.

An additional benefit

Let us know if you have questions about tax identity theft or would like help filing your 2016 return early. If you’ll be getting a refund, an added bonus of filing early is that you’ll be able to enjoy your refund sooner.

© 2017

New HRA offers small employers an attractive, tax-advantaged health care option

In December, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act. The long and complex bill covers a broad range of health care topics, but of particular interest to some businesses should be the Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) provision. Specifically, qualified small employers can now use HRAs to reimburse employees who purchase individual insurance coverage, rather than providing employees with costly group health plans.

The need for HRA relief

Employers can use HRAs to reimburse their workers’ medical expenses, including health insurance premiums, up to a certain amount each year. The reimbursements are excludable from employees’ taxable income, and untapped amounts can be rolled over to future years. HRAs generally have been considered to be group health plans for tax purposes.

But the Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibits group health plans from imposing annual or lifetime benefits limits and requires such plans to provide certain preventive services without any cost-sharing by employees. And according to previous IRS guidance, “standalone HRAs” — those not tied to an existing group health plan — didn’t comply with these rules, even if the HRAs were used to purchase health insurance coverage that did comply. Businesses that provided the HRAs were subject to fines of $100 per day for each affected employee.

The IRS position was troublesome for smaller businesses that struggled to pay for traditional group health plans or to administer their own self-insurance plans. The changes in the Cures Act give these employers a third option for providing one of the benefits most valued by today’s employees.

The QSEHRA

Under the Cures Act, certain small employers can maintain general purpose, standalone HRAs that aren’t “group health plans” for most purposes under the Internal Revenue Code, Employee Retirement Income Security Act and Public Health Service Act.

More specifically, the legislation allows employers that aren’t “applicable large employers” under the ACA to provide a Qualified Small Employer HRA (QSEHRA) if they don’t offer a group health plan to any of their employees. Annual benefits under a QSEHRA:

• Can’t exceed an indexed maximum of $4,950 per year ($10,000 if family members are covered),
• Must be employer-funded (no salary reductions), and
• Can be used for only IRC Section 213(d) medical care.

QSEHRA benefits must be offered on the same terms to all “eligible employees” (certain individuals can be disregarded) and may be excluded from income only if the recipient has minimum essential coverage. There is a notice requirement and employees’ permitted benefits must be reported on Form W-2.

If you’re interested in exploring the QSEHRA option for your business, contact us for further details.

© 2017

2017 Q1 tax calendar: Key deadlines for businesses and other employers

Here are some of the key tax-related deadlines affecting businesses and other employers during the first 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.

January 31

  • File 2016 Forms W-2, “Wage and Tax Statement,” with the Social Security Administration and provide copies to your employees.
  • File 2016 Forms 1099-MISC, “Miscellaneous Income,” reporting nonemployee compensation payments in Box 7 with the IRS, and provide copies to recipients.
  • File Form 941, “Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return,” to report Medicare, Social Security and income taxes withheld in the fourth quarter of 2016. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return. Employers that have an estimated annual employment tax liability of $1,000 or less may be eligible to file Form 944,“Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return.”
  • File Form 940, “Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return,” for 2016. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it’s more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.
  • File Form 945, “Annual Return of Withheld Federal Income Tax,” for 2016 to report income tax withheld on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on accounts such as pensions, annuities and IRAs. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year in full and on time, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 28

File 2016 Forms 1099-MISC with the IRS and provide copies to recipients. (Note that Forms 1099-MISC reporting nonemployee compensation in Box 7 must be filed by January 31, beginning with 2016 forms filed in 2017.)

March 15

If a calendar-year partnership or S corporation, file or extend your 2016 tax return. If the return isn’t extended, this is also the last day to make 2016 contributions to pension and profit-sharing plans.

© 2016

Are you able to deduct medical expenses on your tax return?

 

For many people, the cost of medical care keeps going up. So if possible, you should find ways to claim tax breaks related to health care. Unfortunately, it can be difficult because there’s a threshold for deducting itemized medical expenses that can be tough to meet.

To make matters worse, the threshold for senior taxpayers is going up beginning January 1, 2017.

General rules

Before 2013, you could claim an itemized deduction for unreimbursed medical expenses paid for you, your spouse and your dependents, to the extent those expenses exceeded 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). AGI includes all of your taxable income items, reduced by certain write-offs, including those for deductible IRA contributions, alimony payments and student loan interest.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, a higher deduction threshold of 10% of AGI now applies to most taxpayers. However, if either you or your spouse were at least 65 as of December 31, 2016, the 10%-of-AGI deduction threshold won’t affect you for the 2016 tax year (the tax return you’ll file in 2017). For 2016, the 7.5%-of-AGI deduction threshold still applies for qualifying seniors.

However, this exemption is temporary. Beginning January 1, 2017, the 10% threshold will apply to all taxpayers, including those over 65.

Consider “bunching” expenses in alternating years

If you aren’t eligible for a deduction, you might be able to qualify if you concentrate medical expenses in alternating years. That way, you may qualify to claim an itemized medical expense deduction every other year — instead of losing the opportunity to claim any deduction for health care costs. Of course, this might only work if you have flexibility about when medical expenses are incurred.

Eligible expenses

Qualified medical expenses involve the costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, and the costs for treatments affecting any part or function of the body. This includes payments to physicians, dentists and other medical practitioners, as well as equipment, supplies, diagnostic devices, prescription drugs and other health care expenses.
Contact us if you have questions about what expenses are eligible and whether you can qualify for a deduction.

© 2017

What the self-employed need to know about employment taxes

In addition to income tax, you must pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on earned income, such as salary and self-employment income. The 12.4% Social Security tax applies only up to the Social Security wage base of $118,500 for 2016. All earned income is subject to the 2.9% Medicare tax.

The taxes are split equally between the employee and the employer. But if you’re self-employed, you pay both the employee and employer portions of these taxes on your self-employment income.

Additional 0.9% Medicare tax

Another employment tax that higher-income taxpayers must be aware of is the additional 0.9% Medicare tax. It applies to FICA wages and net self-employment income exceeding $200,000 per year ($250,000 for married filing jointly and $125,000 for married filing separately).

If your wages or self-employment income varies significantly from year to year or you’re close to the threshold for triggering the additional Medicare tax, income timing strategies may help you avoid or minimize it. For example, as a self-employed taxpayer, you may have flexibility on when you purchase new equipment or invoice customers. If your self-employment income is from a part-time activity and you’re also an employee elsewhere, perhaps you can time with your employer when you receive a bonus.

Something else to consider in this situation is the withholding rules. Employers must withhold the additional Medicare tax beginning in the pay period when wages exceed $200,000 for the calendar year — without regard to an employee’s filing status or income from other sources. So your employer might not withhold the tax even though you are liable for it due to your self-employment income.

If you do owe the tax but your employer isn’t withholding it, consider filing a W-4 form to request additional income tax withholding, which can be used to cover the shortfall and avoid interest and penalties. Or you can make estimated tax payments.

Deductions for the self-employed

For the self-employed, the employer portion of employment taxes (6.2% for Social Security tax and 1.45% for Medicare tax) is deductible above the line. (No portion of the additional Medicare tax is deductible, because there’s no employer portion of that tax.)

As a self-employed taxpayer, you may benefit from other above-the-line deductions as well. You can deduct 100% of health insurance costs for yourself, your spouse and your dependents, up to your net self-employment income. You also can deduct contributions to a retirement plan and, if you’re eligible, an HSA for yourself. Above-the-line deductions are particularly valuable because they reduce your adjusted gross income (AGI) and modified AGI (MAGI), which are the triggers for certain additional taxes and the phaseouts of many tax breaks.

For more information on the ins and outs of employment taxes and tax breaks for the self-employed, please contact us.

© 2016

Tax impact of investor vs. trader status

If you invest, whether you’re considered an investor or a trader can have a significant impact on your tax bill. Do you know the difference?

Investors

Most people who trade stocks are classified as investors for tax purposes. This means any net gains are treated as capital gains rather than ordinary income.

That’s good if your net gains are long-term (that is, you’ve held the investment more than a year) because you can enjoy the lower long-term capital gains rate. However, any investment-related expenses (such as margin interest, stock tracking software, etc.) are deductible only if you itemize and, in some cases, only if the total of the expenses exceeds 2% of your adjusted gross income.

Traders

Traders have it better in some situations. Their expenses reduce gross income even if they can’t itemize deductions and not just for regular tax purposes, but also for alternative minimum tax purposes.

Plus, in certain circumstances, if traders have a net loss for the year, they can claim it as an ordinary loss (so it can offset other ordinary income) rather than a capital loss. Capital losses are limited to a $3,000 ($1,500 if married filing separately) per year deduction once any capital gains have been offset.

Passing the trader test

What does it take to successfully meet the test for trader status? The answer is twofold:

1. The trading must be “substantial.” While there’s no bright line test, the courts have tended to view more than a thousand trades a year, spread over most of the available trading days, as substantial.

2. The trading must be designed to try to catch the swings in the daily market movements. In other words, you must be attempting to profit from these short-term changes rather than from the long-term holding of investments. So the average duration for holding any one position needs to be very short, generally only a day or two.

If you satisfy these conditions, the chances are good that you’d ultimately be able to prove trader vs. investor status. Of course, even if you don’t satisfy one of the tests, you might still prevail, but the odds against you are higher. If you have questions, please contact us.

© 2016


Prepaid tuition vs. college savings: Which type of 529 plan is better?

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.

© 2016


Tax-smart options for your old retirement plan when you change jobs

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.

© 2016


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