Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Archive for February, 2013

FAQ: What are above-the-line deductions?

An above-the-line deduction is an adjustment to income (deduction) that can be taken regardless of whether the individual taxpayer itemizes deductions. The adjustment reduces the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI). These adjustments are also sometimes called deductions from gross income, as opposed to itemized deductions that are deducted from AGI. An above-the-line deduction is taken out of income “above” the line on the tax form on which adjusted gross income is reported.

Above-the-line deductions are more desirable than itemized deductions because:

  • they are more available (for example, they are not phased out or subject to a floor like many itemized deductions);
  • they can be claimed even if the taxpayer does not itemize deductions; and
  • they lower the taxpayer’s AGI, which can allow the taxpayer to qualify for more and/or larger deductions.

The above-the-line deductions include:

  • Trade or business expenses
  • Net operating loss deduction
  • Loss from sales and exchanges
  • Depreciation and depletion
  • Deductions tied to rents and royalties
  • Teacher’s classroom expenses
  • Jury pay turned over to employer
  • Overnight travel expenses of Reserve or National Guard
  • Supplemental unemployment compensation repayments
  • Business expenses of qualifying performing artists
  • Contributions to individual retirement accounts
  • Student loan interest deduction
  • Tuition and fees deduction
  • Health savings account deduction
  • Moving expenses
  • ½ of self-employment tax
  • Health insurance costs of the self-employed
  • Contributions to SIMPLE or SEP plans
  • Penalty for early withdrawal of funds from a savings account
  • Alimony payments
  • Legal fees and costs paid in certain actions involving civil rights violations or whistleblower awards
  • Domestic production activities deduction

How Do I? Compute 20% net capital gain rate

Beginning in 2013, the capital gains rates, as amended by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, are as follows for individuals:

  • A capital gains rate of 0 percent applies to the adjusted net capital gains if the gain would otherwise be subject to the 10 or 15 percent ordinary income tax rate.
  • A capital gains rate of 15 percent applies to adjusted net capital gains if the gain would otherwise be subject to the 25, 28, 33, or 35 percent ordinary income tax rate.
  • A capital gains rate of 20 percent applies to adjusted net capital gains if the gain would otherwise be subject to the 39.6 percent ordinary income tax rate beginning after December 31, 2012.

Individuals are subject to the 39.6 percent ordinary income tax rate beginning in 2013 to the extent their taxable income exceeds the applicable threshold amount of $450,000 for married individuals filing joint returns and surviving spouses, $425,000 for heads of households, $400,000 for single individuals, and $225,000 for married individuals filing separate returns.

Comment:  The only change from 2012 rates is the 20 percent rate, applied as described, above.  Prior to 2013, the highest tax rate on net capital gain was 15 percent.

Comment: Adjusted net capital gain is net capital gain from capital assets held for more than one year other than unrecaptured Code Sec. 1250 gain (25 percent); collectibles gain (28 percent) or gain from qualified small business stock (varying rates).

Examples

Following the rules outlined above, computations for higher-income taxpayers (those whose taxable income together with net capital gains exceed the 39.6 percent tax bracket threshold amounts, which are also the threshold amounts for the 20 percent capital gain rate) are illustrated under three scenarios:

Example 1: Assume in 2013, joint filers with $475K in net capital gain and $200K in ordinary income:

  • $200K ordinary income will be taxed under the regular income tax tables, which for 2013 indicate a $43,465.50 tax.
  • $475K capital gain is taxed:
    • $250K of $475 net capital gain at 15 percent ($450K threshold less $200K ordinary income) = $37,500
    • The remainder of the net capital gain $225K ($475K less $250K that was taxed at 15 percent) is taxed at 20 percent = $45,000

Total tax liability: $43,465.50 on $200K ordinary income and $82,500 on $475K net capital gain.

Example 2: Assume in 2013, joint filers with $200K in net capital gain and $475K in ordinary income:

  • $475K ordinary income will be taxed under the regular income tax tables, which for 2013 indicate a $135,746 tax.
  • $200K capital gain is taxed:
    • All of $200K net capital gain at 20 percent ($450K threshold already exceeded by $475K in ordinary income) = $40,000.

Total tax liability: $135,746 on $475K ordinary income and $40,000 on $200K net capital gain.

Example 3: Assume in 2013, joint filers with $50K ordinary income and $425K in net capital gain:

  • $50K ordinary income will be taxed under the regular income tax tables, which for 2013 indicate a $4,845
  • $425K net capital gain is taxed:
    • $20,700 at zero percent ($70,700, which is the top of the 15 percent bracket less $50K ordinary income) = $0
    • $379,300 at 15 percent ($450,000 less $70,700) = $56,895
    • $25,000 at 20 percent (balance of ordinary income plus capital gain over $450K threshold) = $5,000.

Total tax liability: $4,845 on $50K ordinary income and $40,000 on $200K net capital gain.

 

IRS guidance on health care employer mandate

Under the new health care law, starting in 2014, “large” employers with more than 50 full-time employees will be subject to stiff monetary penalties if they do not provide affordable and minimum essential health coverage. With less than eleven months before this “play or pay” provision is fully effective, the IRS continues to release critical details on what constitutes an “applicable large employer,” “full-time employee,” “affordable coverage,” and “minimum health coverage.”  Most recently, the IRS issued proposed reliance regulations that provide employers with the most comprehensive explanation of their obligations and options to date.

Background

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) the federal government has made it possible for certain workers who do not otherwise have access to affordable health insurance coverage to obtain a tax credit that would help them pay the costs of their health care premiums. This credit applies to low-income workers whether employed by a small, mid-size or large employer or self-employed.  Under Code Sec. 4980H as added by the PPACA, however, an “applicable large employer” is subject to a shared responsibility payment (an assessable payment) after December 31, 2013 if any of its full-time employees are certified to receive an applicable premium tax credit or cost-sharing reduction and either:

  • The employer does not offer to its full-time employees and their dependents the opportunity to enroll in minimum essential coverage under an eligible employer-sponsored plan (Code Sec. 4980H(a)); or
  • The employer offers its full-time employees and their dependents the opportunity to enroll in minimum essential coverage under an eligible employer-sponsored plan that with respect to a full-time employee who has been certified for the advance payment of an applicable premium tax credit or cost-sharing reduction either is unaffordable relative to an employee’s household income or does not provide minimum value (Code Sec. 4980H(b)).

The Code Sec. 4980H(b) penalty applies to coverage that is “unaffordable,” meaning that the coverage costs more than 9.5 percent of the employee’s household income. Since employers may not be able to determine household income, the proposed regs provide three affordability safe harbors: the Form W-2 safe harbor (based on employee wages); the rate of pay safe harbor (based on hourly or monthly pay rates); and the federal poverty line safe harbor, the IRS explained.

The employer cannot be liable under both Code Secs. 4980H(a) and 4980H(b). Furthermore, the penalty cannot exceed the payment amount that would have been imposed under Code Sec. 4980H(a) if the employee had failed to offer coverage to its full-time employees.

Proposed reliance regs

The proposed reliance regs further clarify what employees are considered “full-time employees” for the purpose of the statute. This distinction is important because the number of full-time employees determines who is an applicable large employer, subject to the affordable coverage requirements and, potentially, the per-employee shared responsibility payment. The proposed reliance regs provide additional guidance on who is a full-time employee, and covers gray areas such as the treatment of seasonal employees.

Other guidance under the regs covers whether employers who have only become applicable large employers in the current year are exempt from the shared responsibility payment. (Generally, they are not.) The proposed reliance regulations also provide certain relief to employers who inadvertently miss some employees.

Finally, the proposed reliance regs provide several transition rules. A major rule allows employers with plans on a fiscal year to wait to apply the standards until the first day of the first plan year that begins in 2014. Another rule exempts employers from penalties in 2014 if they must add dependent coverage to their health plans. Other transition rules apply to health plans offered through cafeteria plans and multiemployer plans. In addition, there are many notification responsibilities that will be placed upon the shoulders of all employers regarding access by their employees to health insurance.

If you have questions about the health care requirements for employers, the shared responsibility payment under Code Sec. 4980H, or anything related to the tax provisions of the new health care law, please contact our offices at (908) 725-4414.

IRS introduces simplified home office claim deduction

The IRS has announced a new optional safe harbor method, effective for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2013, for individuals to determine the amount of their deductible home office expenses (IR-2013-5, Rev. Proc. 2013-13). Being hailed by many as a long-overdue simplification option, taxpayers may now elect to determine their home office deduction by simply multiplying a prescribed rate by the square footage of the portion of the taxpayer’s residence used for business purposes.

The IRS cites that over three million taxpayers in recent tax years have claimed deductions for business use of a home, which normally requires the taxpayer to fill out the 43-line Form 8829. Under the new procedure, a significantly simplified form is used. The new method is expected to reduce paperwork and recordkeeping for small businesses by an estimated 1.6 million hours annually, according to the IRS. The new optional deduction is limited to $1,500 per year, based on $5 per square foot for up to 300 square feet.

The simplified method is not effective for 2012 tax year returns being filed during the current 2013 filing season, but it will become effective for 2013 tax year returns filed in 2014. Taxpayers may want to investigate now whether they could benefit from the election for the 2013 tax year. Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller advised upon announcement of the safe harbor that “The IRS … encourages people to look at this option as they consider tax planning in 2013.”  A final decision on the election need not be made until 2014, when 2013 returns are filed.

Basic home office deduction rule

Under Code 280A, which governs the home office deduction rules on the simplified method election, a taxpayer may deduct expenses that are allocable to a portion of the dwelling unit that is exclusively used on a regular basis. This generally means usage as:

  • The taxpayer’s principal place of business for any trade or business
  • A place to meet with the taxpayer’s patients, clients, or customers in the normal course of the taxpayer’s trade or business, or
  • In the case of a separate structure that is not attached to the dwelling unit, in connection with the taxpayer’s trade or business.

The new simplified method does not remove the requirement to keep records that prove exclusive use, on a regular basis, for one of the three designated uses listed above. It does help, however, in other ways.

Simplified safe harbor

Using the new simplified safe harbor method, a taxpayer determines the amount of deductible expenses for qualified business use of the home for the tax year by multiplying the allowable square footage by the prescribed rate. The allowable square footage is the portion of a home used in a qualified business use of the home, but not to exceed 300 square feet. The prescribed rate is $5.00 per square foot.

Taxpayers who itemize their returns and use the safe harbor method may also deduct, to the extent allowed by the Tax Code and regs, any expense related to the home that is deductible without regard to whether there is a qualified business use of the home for that tax year, the IRS explained. As a result, they will be able to claim allowable mortgage interest, real estate taxes, and casualty losses on the home as itemized deductions on Schedule A of Form 1040. These deductions do not need to be allocated between personal and business use, as is required under the regular method.

Depreciation

Taxpayers using the safe harbor cannot deduct any depreciation for the portion of the home that is used in a qualified business use of the home for that tax year. For many taxpayers, depreciation is the largest component of the home office deduction under the regular method that must be sacrificed if the new safe harbor method is used.  Depending upon the value of your home and the space devoted to an office at home, using the regular method may prove to be the far better choice than electing the simplified method.

Election

Taxpayers may elect from tax year to tax year whether to use the safe harbor method or actual expense method. Once made, an election for the tax year is irrevocable.  The IRS has provided rules for calculating the depreciation deduction if a taxpayer uses the safe harbor for one year and actual expenses for a subsequent year. The deduction of expenses that are not related to the home, such as wages and supplies, is unaffected and those deductions are still available to those using the new method.

Limitations

The IRS set various limits on the safe harbor, including:

  • Taxpayers with more than one qualified business use of the same home for a tax year and who elect the safe harbor must use the safe harbor for each qualified business use of the home.
  • Taxpayers with qualified business uses of more than one home for a tax year may use the safe harbor for only one home for that tax year.
  • A taxpayer who has a qualified business use of a home and a rental use of the same home cannot use the safe harbor for the rental use.

If you are currently claiming a home office deduction, or if you have considered taking the deduction in the past but were discouraged by all of the paperwork and calculations required, you should consider whether the new, simplified safe harbor method is right for you. Please feel free to contact this office at (908) 725-4414 for further details.

ATRA delays start to 2013 filing season

As the 2013 filing season gets underway, some taxpayers may experience delays in filing returns and others need to revisit their returns because of the passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) on January 1, 2013.  Late tax legislation always complicates tax planning and filing and 2013 is no exception.  ATRA extended many popular tax incentives for individuals and businesses retroactively to January 1, 2012.  This means that qualified taxpayers may claim them on their 2012 returns filed in 2013.  ATRA also made many changes that take effect in 2013, which will require careful planning as this year unfolds.

Delayed start to filing season

The most immediate effect of ATRA is a delayed start to the 2013 filing season.  Shortly after passage of ATRA, the IRS announced that the 2013 filing season would begin on January 30, 2013.  That reflected a delay of eight days from the previously anticipated start date of January 22, 2013.  The IRS explained that it needed time to program its processing systems for ATRA.  As of January 30, the IRS was able to accept returns affected by the AMT patch as well as three very popular “tax extenders:” the state and local sales tax deduction, higher education tuition deduction and teachers’ classroom expense deduction.

However, some taxpayers will experience a further delay.  A number of tax forms affected by late legislation require more extensive programming and testing of IRS systems. The IRS reported that it aims to begin accepting returns including these forms between late February and into March.  The IRS predicted that a specific date will be announced in the near future. Among the forms that require more extensive programming changes are some commonly used forms, most notably Form 4562 (Depreciation and Amortization). Other forms affected by the delay include Form 5695 (Residential Energy Credits) and Form 3800 (General Business Credit).

The IRS also announced special relief for farmers and fishermen who are affected by the delay.  Normally, farmers and fishermen who choose not to make quarterly estimated tax payments are not subject to a penalty if they file their returns and pay the full amount of tax due by March 1. Under the guidance to be issued, farmers or fishermen who miss the March 1 deadline will not be subject to the penalty if they file and pay by April 15, 2013.

Retroactive and prospective extensions

For individuals, some of the most popular incentives are the three mentioned above (the state and local sales tax deduction, the higher education tuition deduction and the teachers’ classroom expense deduction).  Other incentives that were retroactively extended to January 1, 2012 by ATRA, and therefore are available for 2012 returns filed in 2013, include special rules treating mortgage insurance premiums as deductible interest that is qualified residence interest, and special rules for contributions of capital gains real property for conservation purposes.

Another valuable incentive extended by ATRA is a tax break for energy efficient improvements.  ATRA extended retroactively to January 1, 2012 and through 2013 the Code Sec. 25C energy credit. Energy efficiency improvements include adding insulation, energy-efficient exterior windows and doors and certain roofs. The credit has a lifetime limit; qualifying improvements must be placed into service to the taxpayer’s principal residence before January 1, 2014, and there are other restrictions.

ATRA also provided transition relief for individuals wishing to make tax-free transfers of IRA funds to charitable organizations.  For tax year 2012 only, IRA owners could choose to report qualified charitable distributions made in January 2013 as if they occurred in 2012. Additionally, IRA owners who received IRA distributions during December 2012 could contribute, in cash, part or all of the amounts distributed to eligible charities during January 2013 and have them count as 2012 qualified charitable distributions.

For businesses, ATRA extended many temporary incentives.  Among the most commonly claimed are enhanced small business expensing, bonus depreciation, and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC).  Under ATRA, the Code Sec. 179 small business expensing dollar limit for tax years 2012 and 2013 is $500,000 with a $2 million investment limit (both amounts indexed for inflation).  Bonus depreciation is available at 50 percent through 2013 and the WOTC is also available through 2013.  Many other business-related incentives that had expired at the end of 2011 are available for 2012 and 2013.

Another extended incentive is transit benefits parity. Qualified transportation fringe benefits include transit passes, van pooling, and qualified parking. The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 provided for parity for the exclusion limitation on transit passes, van pool benefits and qualified parking through 2011. ATRA extended transit benefits parity retroactively to January 1, 2012 and through 2013. In Rev. Proc. 2013-15, the IRS reported that the inflation-adjusted maximum monthly excludable amount for 2013 is $245 for transit passes and van pool benefits and also $245 for qualified parking. The IRS has issued administrative relief for employers that provided transit benefits in 2012 at their pre-ATRA rates.

Changes for 2013 and beyond

ATRA’s most far-reaching changes – allowing the Bush-era tax rates to expire after 2012 for individuals with incomes over $400,000 and families with incomes over $450,000 along with increased capital gains and dividend taxes for higher income taxpayers – will be reflected on 2013 returns filed in 2014.  Other important provisions, such as the revived limitation on itemized deductions and the personal exemption phaseout, also will kick-in in 2013 and be reflected on 2013 returns filed in 2014.  Also taking effect in 2013 are an Additional Medicare Tax and a Net Investment Income surtax.  All these changes should be taken into account in planning your 2013 tax strategy.

Please contact our office at (908) 725-4414 for more information about the affect of ATRA on the 2013 filing season and tax planning for future years