Don’t forget to take required minimum distributions this yearPosted on January 26th, 2021
If you have a traditional IRA or tax-deferred retirement plan account, you probably know that you must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) when you reach a certain age — or you’ll be penalized. The CARES Act, which passed last March, allowed people to skip taking these withdrawals in 2020 but now that we’re in 2021, RMDs must be taken again.
Once you attain age 72 (or age 70½ before 2020), you must begin taking RMDs from your traditional IRAs and certain retirement accounts, including 401(k) plans. In general, RMDs are calculated using life expectancy tables published by the IRS. If you don’t withdraw the minimum amount each year, you may have to pay a 50% penalty tax on what you should have taken out — but didn’t. (Roth IRAs don’t require withdrawals until after the death of the owner.)
You can always take out more than the required amount. In planning for distributions, your income needs must be weighed against the desirable goal of keeping the tax shelter of the IRA going for as long as possible for both yourself and your beneficiaries.
In order to provide tax relief due to COVID-19, the CARES Act suspended RMDs for calendar year 2020 — but only for that one year. That meant that taxpayers could put off RMDs, not have to pay tax on them and allow their retirement accounts to keep growing tax deferred.
Begin taking RMDs again
Many people hoped that the RMD suspension would be extended into 2021. However, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was enacted on December 27, 2020, to provide more COVID-19 relief, didn’t extend the RMD relief. That means if you’re required to take RMDs, you need to take them this year or face a penalty.
Note: The IRS may waive part or all of the penalty if you can prove that you didn’t take RMDs due to reasonable error and you’re taking steps to remedy the shortfall. In these cases, the IRS reviews the information a taxpayer provides and decides whether to grant a request for a waiver.
Keep more of your money
Feel free to contact us if have questions about calculating RMDs or avoiding the penalty for not taking them. We can help make sure you keep more of your money.
One reason to file your 2020 tax return earlyPosted on January 20th, 2021
The IRS announced it is opening the 2020 individual income tax return filing season on February 12. (This is later than in past years because of a new law that was enacted late in December.) Even if you typically don’t file until much closer to the April 15 deadline (or you file for an extension), consider filing earlier this year. Why? You can potentially protect yourself from tax identity theft — and there may be other benefits, too.
How is a person’s tax identity stolen?
In a tax identity theft scheme, a thief uses another individual’s personal information to file a fraudulent tax return early in the filing season and claim a bogus refund.
The real taxpayer discovers the fraud when he or she files a return and is told by the IRS that the return is being rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the tax year. While the taxpayer should ultimately be able to prove that his or her return is the legitimate one, tax identity theft can be a hassle to straighten out and significantly delay a refund.
Filing early may be your best defense: If you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a potential thief that will be rejected — not yours.
Note: You can get your individual tax return prepared by us before February 12 if you have all the required documents. It’s just that processing of the return will begin after IRS systems open on that date.
When will you receive your W-2s and 1099s?
To file your tax return, you need all of your W-2s and 1099s. January 31 is the deadline for employers to issue 2020 Form W-2 to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue Form 1099s to recipients of any 2020 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments (including those made to independent contractors).
If you haven’t received a W-2 or 1099 by February 1, first contact the entity that should have issued it. If that doesn’t work, you can contact the IRS for help.
How else can you benefit by filing early?
In addition to protecting yourself from tax identity theft, another benefit of early filing is that, if you’re getting a refund, you’ll get it faster. The IRS expects most refunds to be issued within 21 days. The time is typically shorter if you file electronically and receive a refund by direct deposit into a bank account.
Direct deposit also avoids the possibility that a refund check could be lost, stolen, returned to the IRS as undeliverable or caught in mail delays.
If you haven’t received an Economic Impact Payment (EIP), or you didn’t receive the full amount due, filing early will help you to receive the amount sooner. EIPs have been paid by the federal government to eligible individuals to help mitigate the financial effects of COVID-19. Amounts due that weren’t sent to eligible taxpayers can be claimed on your 2020 return.
Do you need help?
If you have questions or would like an appointment to prepare your return, please contact us. We can help you ensure you file an accurate return that takes advantage of all of the breaks available to you.
PPP loans have reopened: Let’s review the tax consequencesPosted on January 18th, 2021
The Small Business Administration (SBA) announced that the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) reopened the week of January 11. If you’re fortunate to get a PPP loan to help during the COVID-19 crisis (or you received one last year), you may wonder about the tax consequences.
Background on the loans
In March of 2020, the CARES Act became law. It authorized the SBA to make loans to qualified businesses under certain circumstances. The law established the PPP, which provided up to 24 weeks of cash-flow assistance through 100% federally guaranteed loans to eligible recipients. Taxpayers could apply to have the loans forgiven to the extent their proceeds were used to maintain payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic and to cover certain other expenses.
At the end of 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) was enacted to provide additional relief related to COVID-19. This law includes funding for more PPP loans, including a “second draw” for businesses that received a loan last year. It also allows businesses to claim a tax deduction for the ordinary and necessary expenses paid from the proceeds of PPP loans.
Second draw loans
The CAA permits certain smaller businesses who received a PPP loan and experienced a 25% reduction in gross receipts to take a PPP second draw loan of up to $2 million.
To qualify for a second draw loan, a taxpayer must have taken out an original PPP Loan. In addition, prior PPP borrowers must now meet the following conditions to be eligible:
- Employ no more than 300 employees per location,
- Have used or will use the full amount of their first PPP loan, and
- Demonstrate at least a 25% reduction in gross receipts in the first, second or third quarter of 2020 relative to the same 2019 quarter. Applications submitted on or after Jan. 1, 2021, are eligible to utilize the gross receipts from the fourth quarter of 2020.
To be eligible for full PPP loan forgiveness, a business must generally spend at least 60% of the loan proceeds on qualifying payroll costs (including certain health care plan costs) and the remaining 40% on other qualifying expenses. These include mortgage interest, rent, utilities, eligible operations expenditures, supplier costs, worker personal protective equipment and other eligible expenses to help comply with COVID-19 health and safety guidelines or equivalent state and local guidelines.
Eligible entities include for-profit businesses, certain non-profit organizations, housing cooperatives, veterans’ organizations, tribal businesses, self-employed individuals, sole proprietors, independent contractors and small agricultural co-operatives.
Deductibility of expenses paid by PPP loans
The CARES Act didn’t address whether expenses paid with the proceeds of PPP loans could be deducted on tax returns. Last year, the IRS took the position that these expenses weren’t deductible. However, the CAA provides that expenses paid from the proceeds of PPP loans are deductible.
Cancellation of debt income
Generally, when a lender reduces or cancels debt, it results in cancellation of debt (COD) income to the debtor. However, the forgiveness of PPP debt is excluded from gross income. Your tax attributes (net operating losses, credits, capital and passive activity loss carryovers, and basis) wouldn’t generally be reduced on account of this exclusion.
This only covers the basics of applying for PPP loans, as well as the tax implications. Contact us if you have questions or if you need assistance in the PPP loan application or forgiveness process.
Educate yourself about the revised tax benefits for higher educationPosted on January 14th, 2021
Attending college is one of the biggest investments that parents and students ever make. If you or your child (or grandchild) attends (or plans to attend) an institution of higher learning, you may be eligible for tax breaks to help foot the bill.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was enacted recently, made some changes to the tax breaks. Here’s a rundown of what has changed.
Deductions vs. credits
Before the new law, there were tax breaks available for qualified education expenses including the Tuition and Fees Deduction, the Lifetime Learning Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit.
Tax credits are generally better than tax deductions. The difference? A tax deduction reduces your taxable income while a tax credit reduces the amount of taxes you owe on a dollar-for-dollar basis.
First, let’s look at the deduction
For 2020, the Tuition and Fees Deduction could be up to $4,000 at lower income levels or up to $2,000 at middle income levels. If your 2020 modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) allows you to be eligible, you can claim the deduction whether you itemize or not. Here are the income thresholds:
- For 2020, a taxpayer with a MAGI of up to $65,000 ($130,000 for married filing jointly) could deduct qualified expenses up to $4,000.
- For 2020, a taxpayer with a MAGI between $65,001 and $80,000 ($130,001 and $160,000 for married filing jointly) could deduct up to $2,000.
- For 2020, the allowable 2020 deduction was phased out and was zero if your MAGI was more than $80,000 ($160,000 for married filing jointly).
As you’ll see below, the Tuition and Fees Deduction is not available after the 2020 tax year.
Two credits aligned
Before the new law, an unfavorable income phase-out rule applied to the Lifetime Learning Credit, which can be worth up to $2,000 per tax return annually. For 2021 and beyond, the new law aligns the phase-out rule for the Lifetime Learning Credit with the more favorable phase-out rule for the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which can be worth up to $2,500 per student each year. The CAA also repeals the Tuition and Fees Deduction for 2021 and later years. Basically, the law trades the old-law write-off for the more favorable new-law Lifetime Learning Credit phase-out rule.
Under the CAA, both the Lifetime Learning Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit are phased out for 2021 and beyond between a MAGI of $80,001 and $90,000 for unmarried individuals ($160,001 and $180,000 for married couples filing jointly). Before the new law, the Lifetime Learning Credit was phased out for 2020 between a MAGI of $59,001 and $69,000 for unmarried individuals ($118,001 and $138,000 married couples filing jointly).
Best for you
Talk with us about which of the two remaining education tax credits is the most beneficial in your situation. Each of them has its own requirements. There are also other education tax opportunities you may be able to take advantage of, including a Section 529 tuition plan and a Coverdell Education Savings Account.
Can your business benefit from the enhanced Employee Retention Tax Credit?Posted on January 12th, 2021
COVID-19 has shut down many businesses, causing widespread furloughs and layoffs. Fortunately, employers that keep workers on their payrolls are eligible for a refundable Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC), which was extended and enhanced in the latest law.
Background on the credit
The CARES Act, enacted in March of 2020, created the ERTC. The credit:
- Equaled 50% of qualified employee wages paid by an eligible employer in an applicable 2020 calendar quarter,
- Was subject to an overall wage cap of $10,000 per eligible employee, and
- Was available to eligible large and small employers.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, enacted December 27, 2020, extends and greatly enhances the ERTC. Under the CARES Act rules, the credit only covered wages paid between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2020. The new law now extends the covered wage period to include the first two calendar quarters of 2021, ending on June 30, 2021.
In addition, for the first two quarters of 2021 ending on June 30, the new law increases the overall covered wage ceiling to 70% of qualified wages paid during the applicable quarter (versus 50% under the CARES Act). And it increases the per-employee covered wage ceiling to $10,000 of qualified wages paid during the applicable quarter (versus a $10,000 annual ceiling under the original rules).
Interaction with the PPP
In a change retroactive to March 12, 2020, the new law also stipulates that the employee retention credit can be claimed for qualified wages paid with proceeds from Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans that aren’t forgiven.
What’s more, the new law liberalizes an eligibility rule. Specifically, it expands eligibility for the credit by reducing the required year-over-year gross receipts decline from 50% to 20% and provides a safe harbor allowing employers to use prior quarter gross receipts to determine eligibility.
We can help
These are just some of the changes made to the ERTC, which rewards employers that can afford to keep workers on the payroll during the COVID-19 crisis. Contact us for more information about this tax saving opportunity.
The COVID-19 relief law: What’s in it for you?Posted on January 8th, 2021
The new COVID-19 relief law that was signed on December 27, 2020, contains a multitude of provisions that may affect you. Here are some of the highlights of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which also contains two other laws: the COVID-related Tax Relief Act (COVIDTRA) and the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act (TCDTR).
The law provides for direct payments (which it calls recovery rebates) of $600 per eligible individual ($1,200 for a married couple filing a joint tax return), plus $600 per qualifying child. The U.S. Treasury Department has already started making these payments via direct bank deposits or checks in the mail and will continue to do so in the coming weeks.
The credit payment amount is phased out at a rate of $5 per $100 of additional income starting at $150,000 of modified adjusted gross income for marrieds filing jointly and surviving spouses, $112,500 for heads of household, and $75,000 for single taxpayers.
Medical expense tax deduction
The law makes permanent the 7.5%-of-adjusted-gross-income threshold on medical expense deductions, which was scheduled to increase to 10% of adjusted gross income in 2021. The lower threshold will make it easier to qualify for the medical expense deduction.
Charitable deduction for non-itemizers
For 2020, individuals who don’t itemize their deductions can take up to a $300 deduction per tax return for cash contributions to qualified charitable organizations. The new law extends this $300 deduction through 2021 for individuals and increases it to $600 for married couples filing jointly. Taxpayers who overstate their contributions when claiming this deduction are subject to a 50% penalty (previously it was 20%).
Allowance of charitable contributions
In response to the pandemic, the limit on cash charitable contributions by an individual in 2020 was increased to 100% of the individual’s adjusted gross income (AGI). (The usual limit is 60% of adjusted gross income.) The new law extends this rule through 2021.
Energy tax credit
A credit of up to $500 is available for purchases of qualifying energy improvements made to a taxpayer’s main home. However, the $500 maximum allowance must be reduced by any credits claimed in earlier years. The law extends this credit, which was due to expire at the end of 2020, through 2021.
Other energy-efficient provisions
There are a few other energy-related provisions in the new law. For example, the tax credit for a qualified fuel cell motor vehicle and the two-wheeled plug-in electric vehicle were scheduled to expire in 2020 but have been extended through the end of 2021.
There’s also a valuable tax credit for qualifying solar energy equipment expenditures for your home. For equipment placed in service in 2020, the credit rate is 26%. The rate was scheduled to drop to 22% for equipment placed in service in 2021 before being eliminated for 2022 and beyond.
Under the new law, the 26% credit rate is extended to cover equipment placed in service in 2021 and 2022 and the law also extends the 22% rate to cover equipment placed in service in 2023. For 2024 and beyond, the credit is scheduled to vanish.
Maximize tax breaks
These are only a few tax breaks contained in the massive new law. We’ll make sure that you claim all the tax breaks you’re entitled to when we prepare your tax return.
New law doubles business meal deductions and makes favorable PPP loan changesPosted on January 7th, 2021
The COVID-19 relief bill, signed into law on December 27, 2020, provides a further response from the federal government to the pandemic. It also contains numerous tax breaks for businesses. Here are some highlights of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (CAA), which also includes other laws within it.
Business meal deduction increased
The new law includes a provision that removes the 50% limit on deducting business meals provided by restaurants and makes those meals fully deductible.
As background, ordinary and necessary food and beverage expenses that are incurred while operating your business are generally deductible. However, for 2020 and earlier years, the deduction is limited to 50% of the allowable expenses.
The new legislation adds an exception to the 50% limit for expenses of food or beverages provided by a restaurant. This rule applies to expenses paid or incurred in calendar years 2021 and 2022.
The use of the word “by” (rather than “in”) a restaurant clarifies that the new tax break isn’t limited to meals eaten on a restaurant’s premises. Takeout and delivery meals from a restaurant are also 100% deductible.
Note: Other than lifting the 50% limit for restaurant meals, the legislation doesn’t change the rules for business meal deductions. All the other existing requirements continue to apply when you dine with current or prospective customers, clients, suppliers, employees, partners and professional advisors with whom you deal with (or could engage with) in your business.
Therefore, to be deductible:
- The food and beverages can’t be lavish or extravagant under the circumstances, and
- You or one of your employees must be present when the food or beverages are served.
If food or beverages are provided at an entertainment activity (such as a sporting event or theater performance), either they must be purchased separately from the entertainment or their cost must be stated on a separate bill, invoice or receipt. This is required because the entertainment, unlike the food and beverages, is nondeductible.
The new law authorizes more money towards the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and extends it to March 31, 2021. There are a couple of tax implications for employers that received PPP loans:
- Clarifications of tax consequences of PPP loan forgiveness. The law clarifies that the non-taxable treatment of PPP loan forgiveness that was provided by the 2020 CARES Act also applies to certain other forgiven obligations. Also, the law makes clear that taxpayers, whose PPP loans or other obligations are forgiven, are allowed deductions for otherwise deductible expenses paid with the proceeds. In addition, the tax basis and other attributes of the borrower’s assets won’t be reduced as a result of the forgiveness.
- Waiver of information reporting for PPP loan forgiveness. Under the CAA, the IRS is allowed to waive information reporting requirements for any amount excluded from income under the exclusion-from-income rule for forgiveness of PPP loans or other specified obligations. (The IRS had already waived information returns and payee statements for loans that were guaranteed by the Small Business Administration).
These are just a couple of the provisions in the new law that are favorable to businesses. The CAA also provides extensions and modifications to earlier payroll tax relief, allows changes to employee benefit plans, includes disaster relief and much more. Contact us if you have questions about your situation.
Prevent and detect insider cyberattacksPosted on January 6th, 2021
In one recent cybercrime scheme, a mortgage company employee accessed his employer’s records without authorization, then used stolen customer lists to start his own mortgage business. The perpetrator hacked the protected records by sending an email containing malware to a coworker.
This particular dishonest worker was caught. But your company may not be so lucky. One of your employees’ cybercrime schemes could end in financial losses or competitive disadvantages due to corporate espionage.
Why would trusted employees steal from the hand that feeds them? They could be working for a competitor or seeking revenge for perceived wrongs. Sometimes coercion by a third party or the need to pay gambling or addiction-related debts comes into play.
Although there are no guarantees that you’ll be able to foil every hacking scheme, your business can minimize the risk of insider theft by implementing several best practices:
Restrict IT use. Your IT personnel should take proactive measures to restrict or monitor employee use of email accounts, websites, peer-to-peer networking, Instant Messaging protocols and File Transfer Protocol.
Remove access. When employees leave the company, immediately remove them from all access lists and ask them to return their means of access to secure accounts. Provide them with copies of any signed confidentiality agreements as a reminder of their legal responsibilities for maintaining data confidentiality.
Don’t neglect physical assets. Some data thefts occur the old-fashioned way — with employees absconding with materials after hours or while no one is looking. Typically, a crooked employee will print or photocopy documents and remove them from the workplace hidden in a briefcase or bag. Some dishonest employees remove files from cabinets, desks or other storage locations. Controls such as locks, surveillance cameras and restrictions to access can help prevent and deter theft.
Treat workers well. Create a positive work environment and treat employees fairly and with respect. This can encourage loyalty and trust, thereby minimizing potential motives for employee theft.
In addition to the previously named threats, your office’s wireless communication networks — including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and cellular — can increase fraud risk. Fraud perpetrators can, for example, use mobile devices to gain access to sensitive information. One way to deter such activities is to restrict Wi-Fi to employees with special passwords or biometric access.
For more tips on preventing employee-originated cybercrime, or if you suspect a fraud scheme is underway, contact us for help.
Your taxpayer filing status: You may be eligible to use more than onePosted on January 4th, 2021
When it comes to taxes, December 31 is more than just New Year’s Eve. That date will affect the filing status box that will be checked on your 2020 tax return. When filing a return, you do so with one of five tax filing statuses. In part, they depend on whether you’re married or unmarried on December 31.
More than one filing status may apply, and you can use the one that saves the most tax. It’s also possible that your status could change during the year.
Here are the filing statuses and who can claim them:
- Single. This is generally used if you’re unmarried, divorced or legally separated under a divorce or separate maintenance decree governed by state law.
- Married filing jointly. If you’re married, you can file a joint tax return with your spouse. If your spouse passes away, you can generally file a joint return for that year.
- Married filing separately. As an alternative to filing jointly, married couples can choose to file separate tax returns. In some cases, this may result in less tax owed.
- Head of household. Certain unmarried taxpayers may qualify to use this status and potentially pay less tax. Special requirements are described below.
- Qualifying widow(er) with a dependent child. This may be used if your spouse died during one of the previous two years and you have a dependent child. Other conditions also apply.
How to qualify as “head of household”
In general, head of household status is more favorable than filing as a single taxpayer. To qualify, you must “maintain a household” that, for more than half the year, is the principal home of a “qualifying child” or other relative that you can claim as your dependent.
A “qualifying child” is defined as one who:
- Lives in your home for more than half the year,
- Is your child, stepchild, foster child, sibling, stepsibling or a descendant of any of these,
- Is under 19 years old or under age 24 if enrolled as a student, and
- Doesn’t provide over half of his or her own support for the year.
If a child’s parents are divorced, different rules may apply. Also, a child isn’t eligible to be a “qualifying child” if he or she is married and files a joint tax return or isn’t a U.S. citizen or resident.
There are other head of household requirements. You’re considered to maintain a household if you live in it for the tax year and pay more than half the cost. This includes property taxes, mortgage interest, rent, utilities, property insurance, repairs, upkeep, and food consumed in the home. Don’t include medical care, clothing, education, life insurance or transportation.
Under a special rule, you can qualify as head of household if you maintain a home for a parent even if you don’t live with him or her. To qualify, you must claim the parent as your dependent.
Determining marital status
You must generally be unmarried to claim head of household status. If you’re married, you must generally file as either married filing jointly or married filing separately — not as head of household. However, if you’ve lived apart from your spouse for the last six months of the year, a qualifying child lives with you and you “maintain” the household, you’re treated as unmarried. In this case, you may qualify as head of household.
Contact us if you have questions about your filing status. Or ask us when we prepare your return.
The right entity choice: Should you convert from a C to an S corporation?Posted on December 28th, 2020
The best choice of entity can affect your business in several ways, including the amount of your tax bill. In some cases, businesses decide to switch from one entity type to another. Although S corporations can provide substantial tax benefits over C corporations in some circumstances, there are potentially costly tax issues that you should assess before making the decision to convert from a C corporation to an S corporation.
Here are four issues to consider:
1. LIFO inventories. C corporations that use last-in, first-out (LIFO) inventories must pay tax on the benefits they derived by using LIFO if they convert to S corporations. The tax can be spread over four years. This cost must be weighed against the potential tax gains from converting to S status.
2. Built-in gains tax. Although S corporations generally aren’t subject to tax, those that were formerly C corporations are taxed on built-in gains (such as appreciated property) that the C corporation has when the S election becomes effective, if those gains are recognized within five years after the conversion. This is generally unfavorable, although there are situations where the S election still can produce a better tax result despite the built-in gains tax.
3. Passive income. S corporations that were formerly C corporations are subject to a special tax. It kicks in if their passive investment income (including dividends, interest, rents, royalties, and stock sale gains) exceeds 25% of their gross receipts, and the S corporation has accumulated earnings and profits carried over from its C corporation years. If that tax is owed for three consecutive years, the corporation’s election to be an S corporation terminates. You can avoid the tax by distributing the accumulated earnings and profits, which would be taxable to shareholders. Or you might want to avoid the tax by limiting the amount of passive income.
4. Unused losses. If your C corporation has unused net operating losses, they can’t be used to offset its income as an S corporation and can’t be passed through to shareholders. If the losses can’t be carried back to an earlier C corporation year, it will be necessary to weigh the cost of giving up the losses against the tax savings expected to be generated by the switch to S status.
When a business switches from C to S status, these are only some of the factors to consider. For example, shareholder-employees of S corporations can’t get all of the tax-free fringe benefits that are available with a C corporation. And there may be issues for shareholders who have outstanding loans from their qualified plans. These factors have to be taken into account in order to understand the implications of converting from C to S status.
If you’re interested in an entity conversion, contact us. We can explain what your options are, how they’ll affect your tax bill and some possible strategies you can use to minimize taxes.