MARCH 2018 Tax filing reminders

March 1 – Farmers and fishermen who did not make 2017 estimated tax payments must file 2017 tax returns and pay taxes in full.

March 2 – Automatic extension deadline for employers and health care providers to provide Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to individuals.

March 15

  • 2017 calendar-year S corporation income tax returns are due.
  • 2017 partnership returns are due.
  • Deadline for calendar-year corporations to elect S corporation status for 2018.

Alert: Expired home and education tax breaks revived

Congress passed a federal budget bill in early February that revived dozens of expired tax breaks for the 2017 tax year. They include a deduction for education expenses as well as several tax breaks for homeowners.

If you have not yet filed your 2017 tax return, please be aware these late changes are retroactive to the beginning of 2017. Check out this list of the most useful tax breaks to see if they apply to your situation:

Tuition and fees deduction. If you paid qualified tuition and related higher education expenses, you may be able to deduct as much as $4,000 of those costs. This can be done on a regular return (without itemizing). The deduction is capped at $4,000 for single filers with adjusted gross income (AGI) of $65,000 or less ($130,000 joint) and at $2,000 for single filers with AGI of $80,000 or less ($160,000 joint).

Mortgage insurance deduction. If you paid mortgage insurance premiums, you can now once again deduct those amounts as an itemized deduction. This deduction begins to phase out for taxpayers with AGI of $100,000 or more.

Mortgage debt forgiveness exclusion. If qualifying mortgage debt on your primary residence was discharged or forgiven, you can exclude that amount from your income.

Energy-efficient home improvement credit. Energy-efficient home improvements (such as upgrades to windows, or heating and cooling systems), may be eligible for a tax credit equal to 10 percent of the amount paid, up to $500.

If you think any of these apply to you, bring all the related documentation to your tax filing appointment. If you have already filed, you may need to file an amended tax return to capture these very late law changes.

Answers to commonly asked tax questions

With all of the headlines about the changes to tax law, you probably have lots of questions. Here are answers to some of the most common questions taxpayers have this year.

I’m hearing about a lot of changes to 2018 taxes. What should I do?
A. You’re right, there are a lot of changes in 2018 due to the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), including to the income tax brackets. The simple answer to the question, “What should I do?” is to not make any major changes until you finish filing your 2017 taxes. Once you understand your 2017 tax obligation, you are in a better position to plan for 2018.

However, there are a few things you can start thinking about now. Depending on where you fall in the new income tax brackets, you may want to consider ways to lower your taxable income. This could include increasing your contributions to 401(k) retirement accounts or health savings accounts (HSAs). You’ll also want to make sure your employer has adjusted your federal tax withholding so that you don’t have to wait to receive a large refund (or tax bill) next year. You can review the IRS withholding calculator using your latest pay stub data to make sure the changes are accurate.

What is the penalty amount if I didn’t have health insurance in 2017?
A. The penalty per adult is calculated as the greater of either $695 or 2.5 percent of your yearly household income, up to a maximum of $3,264 for individuals or $16,320 for a family of five or more. Note that the penalty is still in place for tax years 2017 and 2018. The TCJA eliminates the penalty for 2019 through 2025.

Is Social Security taxed?
A. It depends. You won’t pay tax on more than 85 percent of your Social Security income, but how much gets taxed depends on your income bracket. If your combined income is less than $25,000 for the year, you won’t pay tax on Social Security income.

When is the last day to do my taxes?
A. Technically, Tuesday, April 17. But don’t wait until the last minute. Ask for help to get started now, or to file an extension so you have time to complete your tax return later. The sooner you file, the sooner you can get your refund. It usually takes about three weeks to arrive from the date you file. Also, remember you need to keep most tax related documents for at least three years, so don’t toss your paperwork after you file.

The IRS contacted me, what should I do?
A. Ask for help. There are numerous scammers who impersonate the IRS during tax season. The real IRS will never contact you via social media, email or text message. In addition, an IRS agent will not contact you over the phone unless you first receive official correspondence in the mail. If you have received a notice in the mail, immediately ask for help to determine how to proceed.

These are just a few of the questions people have during tax season. If you have more, don’t forget to bring them to your 2017 filing appointment.

Tax checklist for business startups

Starting your own business can be equal parts thrilling and intimidating. Complying with regulations and tax requirements definitely falls into the latter category. But, with some professional help, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can get started with this checklist of things you’ll need to consider.

  • Are you a hobby or a business? This may seem basic to some people, but the first thing you’ll have to consider when starting out is whether you really are operating a business, or pursuing a hobby. A hobby can look like a business, but essentially it’s something you do for its own sake that may or may not turn a profit. A true business is generally run for the purpose of making money and has a reasonable expectation of turning a profit. The benefit of operating as a business is that you have more tax tools available to you, such as being able to deduct your losses.
  • Pick your business structure. If you operate as a business, you’ll have to choose whether it will be taxed as a sole proprietorship, partnership, S corporation or C corporation. All entities except C corporations “pass through” their business income onto your personal tax return. The decision gets more complicated if you legally organize your business as a limited liability corporation (LLC). In this case you will need to choose your tax status as either a partnership or an S corporation. Each tax structure has its benefits and downsides – it’s best to discuss what is best for you.
  • Apply for tax identification numbers. In most cases, your business will have to apply for an employer identification number (EIN) from both the federal and state governments.
  • Select an accounting method. You’ll have to choose whether to use an accrual or cash accounting method. Generally speaking, the accrual method means your business revenue and expenses are recorded when they are billed. In the cash method, revenue and expenses are instead recorded when you are paid. There are federal rules regarding which option you may use. You will also have to choose whether to operate on a calendar year or fiscal year.
  • Create a plan to track financials. Operating a business successfully requires continuous monitoring of your financial condition. This includes forecasting your financials and tracking actual performance against your projections. Too many businesses fail in the first couple of years because they fail to understand the importance of cash flow for startup operations. Don’t let this be you.
  • Prepare for your tax requirements. Business owners generally will have to make quarterly estimated tax payments to the IRS. If you have employees, you’ll have to pay your share of their Social Security and Medicare taxes. You also have the obligation to withhold your employees’ share of taxes, Social Security and Medicare from their wages. Your personal income tax return can also get more complicated if you operate as one of the “pass-through” business structures.

This is just a short list of some of the things you should be ready to discuss as you start your business. Knowing your way around these rules can make the difference between success and failure, but don’t be intimidated. Help is available so don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions.

Taxes and virtual currencies: What you need to know

Virtual currencies are all the rage lately. Here are some tax consequences you must know if you decide to dip your toe into that world.

The IRS is paying close attention
The first thing to know is that the IRS is scrutinizing virtual currency transactions, so if you live in the U.S. you’ll have to report your transactions in Bitcoins and the like to the IRS. Despite some early misconceptions, virtual currency transactions can be traced back to their owners by governments and other cyber sleuths.

If you decide to use or hold virtual currencies, carefully report and pay tax on your transactions. Act as if you are going to be audited, because if you don’t, you just might be!

It’s property, not money
Note that the IRS doesn’t consider Bitcoin or other virtual currencies as money, because they aren’t legal tender. Instead, they are considered property. That means that if you are paid in Bitcoin, you will have to report it as income based on its fair market value on the date you received it.

And, if you sell Bitcoin, you have to pay tax on your gain using the cost (basis) of when you received it. The IRS has said that if Bitcoin is held as a capital asset, like a stock or a bond, then you would pay capital gains tax. Otherwise, if it is not held as a capital asset (for example if it is treated as inventory that you intend to sell to customers), it would be taxed as ordinary income.

Be aware of the risk
In addition to the increased oversight by the IRS, virtual currencies are at risk of virtual theft with no recourse to a government agency like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insures U.S. bank balances. Do your research on storage and security before you invest. And if you need help with any tax questions related to virtual currency, don’t hesitate to call.

Tips for when your employees are family members

Working with family can be a pleasure. It can also be a pain, especially if you have to terminate a family member’s employment. Here are tips to help you ease the strain of mixing your family and employee relationships.

Hire for the right reasons. Make your hiring and firing decisions based on the skill sets needed to keep your business operating effectively. Hiring your son because he’s struggling to find a job is not a good business reason for bringing staff on board.

Set clear expectations. Communicate the job’s performance requirements to your family member right from the start. Clearly define company policies for promotion, compensation and termination. Make it plain that unethical conduct will not be tolerated.

Avoid nepotism. Nepotism is our human habit of treating family members more favorably than others. Keep in mind that your non-family employees will be hypersensitive to any favoritism you show to relatives.

Document performance. Throughout your family member’s tenure, maintain a detailed personnel file that tracks behavior resulting in disciplinary actions. In the unfortunate case of a necessary firing, a well-documented file will provide a narrative record that lays out your reasons and clearly communicates the evidence leading to your decision.

If you have to fire, keep it professional. Set a formal termination meeting. You may want to involve a direct supervisor or a human resources professional to ensure that your company is appropriately represented and to prevent the conversation from lapsing into emotional arguments.

The bottom line: Adhere to formal business standards and communicate in a professional, businesslike manner with your related employees.

New 2018 capital expense rules

There are many provisions in the tax reform bill passed in late 2017 designed to benefit small business owners. There are also a variety of new tax tools affecting how small businesses account for deducting the cost of capital purchases under the new tax law. Here’s what you need to know:

Tool #1: Section 179 deduction
The new law increases the amount of business property purchases that you can expense each year under Section 179 to $1 million (from $500,000 previously). Normally, spending on business property (machines, computers, vehicles, software, office equipment, etc.) is capitalized and depreciated so that the tax benefit is spread out slowly over several years. Section 179 allows you to get the tax break immediately in the year the property is placed into service.

Tips:

  • There is an eligibility phaseout for Section 179 that ensures it’s only used by small businesses, but that was also raised to $2.5 million (from $2 million) by the new law. If you spend more than $2.5 million on business property in total during the year, your ability to use the $1 million Section 179 deduction is reduced dollar-for-dollar above that amount.
  • Section 179 deductions can be used on both new and used equipment.
  • You can now use Section 179 on property used to furnish lodging or in connection with furnishing lodging (such as rental real estate). It also includes improvements to nonresidential real estate assets such as roofs, heating and air conditioning, and alarm systems.

Tool #2: Bonus depreciation
Bonus depreciation limits (also known as first-year bonus depreciation) are also improved under the new law, but for a limited time. Bonus depreciation is similar to Section 179 and allows you to immediately expense capital purchases rather than depreciating them over several years.

Under the new law, first-year bonus depreciation increases to 100 percent of the qualified asset purchase price for the next five tax years (starting in 2018) and can now be applied to the expense of purchasing used property as well as new.

Tips:

  • Bonus depreciation is typically used on short-lived capital investments (with a 20-year or less useful life) such as machinery, equipment and software.
  • Bonus depreciation had been only for purchases of new equipment, but can now be applied to used equipment as long as you place it into service at your business during the tax year.
  • The allowable bonus depreciation starts to decline after 2022. It falls to 80 percent in 2023, 60 percent in 2024, 40 percent in 2025 and 20 percent in 2026.

Remember, though tax reform gives you expanded tools to accelerate depreciation, it may not benefit you to use them in every case. Sometimes it’s better to use the standard capitalization and depreciation tax treatment. These tax benefits do not change the amount a capital purchase can be expensed – only the timing. Calculating whether your business will benefit from these

Tax filing reminders

Tax filing reminders

February 28 – Payers must file most other Forms 1099 (except certain Forms 1099-MISC due Jan. 31) with the IRS. (April 2 if filing electronically.)

March 1 – Farmers and fishermen who did not make 2017 estimated tax payments must file 2017 tax returns and pay taxes in full.

March 2 – Automatic extension deadline for employers and health care providers to provide Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to individuals.

March 15

  • 2017 calendar-year S corporation income tax returns are due.
  • 2017 partnership returns are due.
  • Deadline for calendar-year corporations to elect S corporation status for 2018.