Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Archive for August, 2012

FAQ: Pay estimated tax or withhold?

Some individuals must pay estimated taxes or face a penalty in the form of interest on the amount underpaid. Self-employed persons, retirees, and nonworking individuals most often must pay estimated taxes to avoid the penalty. But an employee may need to pay them if the amount of tax withheld from wages is insufficient to cover the tax owed on other income. The potential tax owed on investment income also may increase the need for paying estimated tax, even among wage earners.

The trick with estimated taxes is to pay a sufficient amount of estimated tax to avoid a penalty but not to overpay. The IRS will refund the overpayment when you file your return, but it will not pay interest on it. In other words, by overpaying tax to the IRS, you are in essence choosing to give the government an interest-free loan rather than invest your money somewhere else and make a profit.

When do I make estimated tax payments?

Individual estimated tax payments are generally made in four installments accompanying a completed Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals. For the typical individual who uses a calendar tax year, payments generally are due on April 15, June 15, and September 15 of the tax year, and January 15 of the following year (or the following business day when it falls on a weekend or other holiday).

Am I required to make estimated tax payments?

Generally, you must pay estimated taxes in 2012 if (1) you expect to owe at least $1,000 in tax after subtracting tax withholding (if you have any) and (2) you expect your withholding and credits to be less than the smaller of 90 percent of your 2012 taxes or 100 percent of the tax on your 2011 return.  There are special rules for higher income individuals.

Usually, there is no penalty if your estimated tax payments plus other tax payments, such as wage withholding, equal either 100 percent of your prior year’s tax liability or 90 percent of your current year’s tax liability. However, if your adjusted gross income for your prior year exceeded $150,000, you must pay either 110 percent of the prior year tax or 90 percent of the current year tax to avoid the estimated tax penalty. For married filing separately, the higher payments apply at $75,000.

Estimated tax is not limited to income tax. In figuring your installments, you must also take into account other taxes such as the alternative minimum tax, penalties for early withdrawals from an IRA or other retirement plan, and self-employment tax, which is the equivalent of Social Security taxes for the self-employed.

Suppose I owe only a relatively small amount of tax?

There is no penalty if the tax underpayment for the year is less than $1,000. However, once an underpayment exceeds $1,000, the penalty applies to the full amount of the underpayment.

What if I realize I have miscalculated my tax before the year ends?

An employee may be able to avoid the penalty by getting the employer to increase withholding in an amount needed to cover the shortfall. The IRS will treat the withheld tax as being paid proportionately over the course of the year, even though a greater amount was withheld at year-end. The proportionate treatment could prevent penalties on installments paid earlier in the year.

What else can I do?

If you receive income unevenly over the course of the year, you may benefit from using the annualized income installment method of paying estimated tax. Under this method, your adjusted gross income, self-employment income and alternative minimum taxable income at the end of each quarterly tax payment period are projected forward for the entire year. Estimated tax is paid based on these annualized amounts if the payment is lower than the regular estimated payment. Any decrease in the amount of an estimated tax payment caused by using the annualized installment method must be added back to the next regular estimated tax payment.

Determining estimated taxes can be complicated, but the penalty can be avoided with proper attention. This office stands ready to assist you with this determination. Please contact us if we can help you determine whether you owe estimated taxes.

How do I? Make a Section 83(b) stock election

Stock is a popular and valuable compensation tool for employers and employees. Employees are encouraged to stay with the company and to work harder, to enhance the value of the stock they will earn. Employers do not have to make a cash outlay to provide the compensation, yet they still are entitled to a tax deduction.

Employers may make a direct transfer of stock to an employee as compensation for services performed. In the simplest case, the employee’s rights in the stock are vested upon receipt. Under Code Sec. 83, the employee has income, equal to the fair market value of the stock, less any amount paid for the stock. The employer can take a compensation deduction under Code Sec. 162 for the amount included in the employee’s income.

Risk of forfeiture

The employer may decide to impose certain conditions on the employee’s right to the stock (such as a requirement that the employee continue to work for the company for two years before the stock “vests”). In this situation, the stock is subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture (or is “nonvested”) until the two-year period elapses. After two years, the stock vests, and the employee recognizes income for the excess of the stock’s value (at the time of vesting) over the amount paid. If the employee leaves the company within two years, the employee forfeits the stock.

An employee who receives stock subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture may anticipate that he or she will stay with the company for the required two years. The employee may also anticipate (or at least hope) that the stock will appreciate in value. Rather than wait two years and have to recognize income when the stock vests, an employee may elect under Code Sec. 83(b) to treat the property as vested upon receipt and to recognize compensation income (if any) at the time of receipt.

83(b) election

The employee may be required to pay for the stock when received. If the employee paid the fair market value of the stock, making a Code Sec. 83(b) election is particularly advantageous, because the employee will not recognize any income on the election.

Example.  Widget Corporation transfers 10 shares of its common stock to Hal, an employee, subject to a requirement that Hal work for two years before the stock vests. The stock is worth $5 a share. Hal is required to pay $5 a share upon receipt of the stock. By making a Code Sec. 83(b) election, Hal will not recognize any income, because the value and the cost of the stock are the same. If Hal did not have to pay any money for the shares, and made an election, Hal would have $50 of compensation income (10 shares times $5 a share).

After making an election, if the employee then works for two years, and the stock appreciates, the employee does not recognize any further compensation income, because the employee has already been taxed under Code Sec. 83.  By making the election, the employee is treated as owning the stock. When the employee sells the stock, the employee will recognize capital gain or loss, measured by the difference between the amount received and the value of the stock when it vested.

Election formalities

To make an election under Code Sec. 83(b), an employee must file a statement with the IRS, within 30 days of the transfer of the property to the employee. The statement must be filed with the Internal Revenue Service Center where the employee would file his or her income tax return. A copy of the statement must be provided to the employer, who is entitled to a compensation deduction when the election is made. A copy must also be attached to the employee’s income tax return.

IRS regulations prescribe the requirements for an election. In Rev. Proc. 2012-29, the IRS also provided sample language for employees to use to make the election. The IRS advised that the sample language is not required. The election must identify the taxpayer, the property being transferred, the date of the transfer, the restrictions on the property, the property’s value at the time of transfer (generally determined without the restrictions), the amount paid by the employee, and the amount of compensation income (the value minus the amount paid). The employee must also sign the election.

The election cannot be revoked without the IRS’s consent. The IRS will not ordinarily grant consent unless there has been a mistake of fact as to the underlying transaction.

If you have any questions about making a Code Sec. 83(b) election, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.

Timing gains and losses: selloff before rising rates

In 2012, many taxpayers will have additional considerations when analyzing whether to sell investments before the end of the year or retain them in 2013. First, the Bush-era tax cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of 2012. This affects ordinary income rates, as well as rates on capital gains and dividends. Second, under the health care law, a new 3.8 percent Medicare tax on unearned income, including interest, dividends and capital gains, will take effect in 2013. Together, these real and potential changes may add up to hefty new taxes in 2013, unless Congress takes action otherwise.

Income tax rates

Current income tax rates continue through the end of 2012.  These include the overall individual income tax rates, currently at 10, 15, 25, 28, 33 and 35 percent. If Congress does not take any action, these rates revert to the higher rates that used to apply: 15, 28, 31, 36, and 39.6 percent. Republicans favor retaining all of the Bush-era rates. President Obama and many Democrats support retaining the 10, 15, 25, and 28 percent rates for lower- and middle-income taxpayers, while reinstating the 36 and 39.6 percent rates for taxpayers with income over $200,000 (single taxpayers) or $250,000 for joint filers.

Additionally, there are calls for tax reform and for an overall lowering of income tax rates, in exchange for ending unspecified tax deductions and benefits. For example, House Republicans have called for replacing current income tax rates with two brackets, of 10 and 25 percent.

Capital gains and dividends

Current income tax rates that extend through the end of 2012 also include the 15 percent rate on capital gains and qualified dividends for qualified taxpayers. If Congress does not act, these rates revert to much higher ordinary income rates, in the case of dividends, and to the 20 percent rate that formerly applied to capital gains. Again, the President and the Republicans would both extend the current rates, but disagree on whether to apply the extensions to all taxpayers (the Republicans) or only to lower- and middle-income taxpayers under the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds (the President).

3.8 percent tax

Adding to the mix is the impending 3.8 percent tax on unearned income. Under the health care law, this tax will apply to 2013 income (and beyond) of single taxpayers with income exceeding $200,000 and joint filers with income exceeding $250,000. The tax is imposed on the lesser of net investment income or the excess of adjusted gross income about the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds.

Net investment income also includes rents, royalties, gain from disposing of property used in a passive activity, and income from a trade or business that is a passive activity. The tax does not apply to distributions from retirement plans and IRAs. Taxpayers cannot necessarily avoid the tax by moving assets to a trust, because the tax will apply if trust income exceeds a threshold currently set at only $11,200.

Sell or hold

Generally, taxpayers should make investment decisions based on economics, holding on to a “good” investment and selling a “bad” investment. This involves looking at past performance and perhaps gazing into a crystal ball. Taxpayers that are debating whether to sell appreciated assets or assets that pay qualified dividends may want to act in 2012, when income tax rates are lower and before the 3.8 percent tax takes effect. Taxpayers considering the sale of declining assets may want to consider holding off until 2013, when losses can offset more highly-taxed gains and reduce the income potentially subject to the 3.8 percent tax.

Because the 3.8 percent tax does not apply to tax-free income, such as municipal bonds and distributions from a Roth IRA, taxpayers may want to shift some of their investments to yield nontaxable income. While the income from converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA would be included in the income calculations, qualifying distributions after the conversion would not be included.

Again, the decision must make economic sense. If the taxpayer expects an asset to continue to decline in value during 2012, he or she should sell the asset soon and not wait until 2013. Another consideration is the bunching of income. Taxpayers that sell substantial capital gains assets in 2013 may push their income up to the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds that trigger higher taxes. If the taxpayer is considering a sell-off of assets, it may make more sense to sell assets before 2013.

If a taxpayer wants to shift to more conservative investments, income yields may decline, but so will the incidence of the dividend, capital gains, and unearned income taxes described above. On the other hand, taxpayers looking at more speculative investments should understand that a successful investment may generate income taxed at higher rates in 2013.

Please contact our office at (908) 725-4414 if you have any questions.

Deducting computer software and development costs

The tax treatment of computer software can be a confusing area.  Computer software is an intangible product itself, but it can be acquired in a variety of ways.  It may be bundled with a computer processor (hardware), sold on a disc as computer software, downloaded over the Internet, accessed (but not downloaded) over the Internet, or developed by the taxpayer. It may be acquired by itself, or as part of a business.  Thus, the treatment of computer software can vary, depending on the circumstances.  In view of these variations, it is important to get proper advice as to the tax treatment of computer software.

Computer software is treated as an intangible under Code Sec. 197 if it is acquired as part of the acquisition of the assets of a trade or business.  In this situation, the software must be amortized over 15 years, a fairly long period. However, if the software is stated and sold separately, not as part of a business acquisition, it can be amortized on a straight-line basis over 36 months. Off-the-shelf computer software can also qualify for Code Sec. 179 small business expensing if it is placed in service in a tax year beginning in 2012. (Code Sec. 179 expensing generally is reserved for tangible personal property.)

Bundled software that is included in computer hardware must be capitalized and depreciated over the life of the hardware, generally five years for computers.  If the software is leased or licensed, it may be deducted under Code Sec. 162. If the taxpayer prepays for several years use of the software, the payments must be deducted ratably over the period of use.

Software that is developed by the taxpayer is treated like other research expenditures.  It may be deductible over Code Sec. 174(a) as expenses are paid. The taxpayer may instead elect to capitalize the cost of the software under Code Sec. 174(b) and to amortize the costs over 60 months, beginning at the time the software is completed. Finally, the taxpayer could amortize the software over 36 months, beginning after the software is placed in service.

Finally, there also are rules for enterprise research planning (ERP) software. ERP software is a shell that integrates different software modules for financial accounting, inventory control, sales and distribution, production, and human resources. Until the IRS issues regulations on ERP software, taxpayers have relied on a 2002 IRS letter ruling, providing that:

  • The cost of purchased ERP software is amortized ratably over 36 months under Code Sec. 167(f);
  • Training and related costs under a consulting contract are deductible as current expenses;
  • Separately stated computer hardware costs are depreciated as five-year MACRS property (“qualified technological equipment”);
  • The costs of writing machine-readable code software are treated as developed software and may be deducted currently, like research and development expenditures; and
  • The costs of option selection, implementation of ERP templates, and costs of software modeling and design are treated as installation/modification costs and are amortized over 36 months as part of the purchased ERP software.

The domestic production activities deduction under Code Sec. 199 is an additional nine percent deduction from income that is based on the amount of the taxpayer’s qualified production activities income (QPAI). QPAI includes receipts for the lease, license, sale or disposition of an item, including computer software that is sold through a disc or download.  However, QPAI generally does not include income from the provision of online services for the use of computer software, because there is no disposition of a product.

Please contact our office at (908) 725-4414 if you have any questions about deducting computer software and development costs.

Provisions in the Affordable Care Act

When Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and its companion bill, the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (collectively known as the Affordable Care Act) in 2010, lawmakers staggered the effective dates of various provisions.  The most well-known provision, the so-called individual mandate, is scheduled to take effect in 2014.  A number of other provisions are scheduled to take effect in 2013. All of these require careful planning before their effective dates.

2013

Two important changes to the Medicare tax are scheduled for 2013.  For tax years beginning after December 31, 2012, an additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax is imposed on individuals with wages/self-employment income in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 in the case of a joint return and $125,000 in the case of a married taxpayer filing separately). Moreover, and also effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2012, a 3.8 percent Medicare tax is imposed on the lesser of an individual’s net investment income for the tax year or modified adjusted gross income in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 in the case of a joint return and $125,000 in the case of a married taxpayer filing separately).

The Affordable Care Act sets out the basic parameters of the new Medicare taxes but the details will be supplied by the IRS in regulations.  To date, the IRS has not issued regulations or other official guidance about the new Medicare taxes (although the IRS did post some general frequently asked questions about the Affordable Care Act’s changes to Medicare on its web site).   As soon as the IRS issues regulations or other official guidance, our office will advise you. In the meantime, please contact our office if you have any questions about the new Medicare taxes.

Also in 2013, the Affordable Care Act limits annual salary reduction contributions to a health flexible spending arrangement (health FSA) under a cafeteria plan to $2,500.  If the plan would allow salary reductions in excess of $2,500, the employee will be subject to tax on distributions from the health FSA.  The $2,500 amount will be adjusted for inflation after 2013.

Additionally, the Affordable Care Act also increases the medical expense deduction threshold in 2013.  Under current law, the threshold to claim an itemized deduction for unreimbursed medical expenses is 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income.  Effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2012, the threshold will be 10 percent.  However, the Affordable Care Act temporarily exempts individuals age 65 and older from the increase.

2014

The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate generally requires individuals to make a shared responsibility payment if they do not carry minimum essential health insurance for themselves and their dependents.  The requirement begins in 2014.

To understand who is covered by the individual mandate, it is easier to describe who is excluded.  Generally, individuals who have employer-provided health insurance coverage are excluded, so long as that coverage is deemed minimum essential coverage and is affordable.  If the coverage is treated as not affordable, the employee could qualify for a tax credit to help offset the cost of coverage.  Individuals covered by Medicare and Medicaid also are excluded from the individual mandate.  Additionally, undocumented aliens, incarcerated persons, individuals with a religious conscience exemption, and people who have short lapses of minimum essential coverage are excluded from the individual mandate.

The individual mandate was at the heart of the legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act after its passage.  These legal challenges reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June 2012, held that the individual mandate is a valid exercise of Congress’ taxing power.

Like the new Medicare taxes, the Affordable Care Act sets out the parameters of the individual mandate.  The IRS is expected to issue regulations and other official guidance before 2014.  Our office will keep you posted of developments.

2014 will also bring a new shared responsibility payment for employers.  Large employers (generally employers with 50 or more full-time employees but subject to certain limitations) will be liable for a penalty if they fail to offer employees the opportunity to enroll in minimum essential coverage.  Large employers may also be subject to a penalty if they offer coverage but one or more employees receive a premium assistance tax credit.

The employer shared responsibility payment provisions are among the most complex in the Affordable Care Act.  The IRS has requested comments from employers on how to implement the provisions.  In good news for employers, the IRS has indicated may develop a safe harbor to help clarify who is a full-time employee for purposes of the employer shared responsibility payment.

If you have any questions about the provisions in the Affordable Care Act we have discussed, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.