Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Archive for July, 2013

How Do I? Get a tax break on my vacation home

Vacation homes offer owners tax breaks similar-but not identical-to those for primary residences. Vacation homes also offer owners the opportunity to earn tax-advantaged and even tax-free income. This combination of current income and tax breaks, combined with the potential for long-term appreciation, can make a second home an attractive investment.

Homeowners can deduct mortgage interest they pay on up to $1 million of “acquisition indebtedness” incurred to buy their primary residence and one additional residence. If their total mortgage indebtedness exceeds $1 million, they can still deduct the interest they pay on their first $1 million. If one mortgage carries a substantially higher rate than the second, it makes sense to deduct the higher interest first to maximize deductions.

Vacation homeowners don’t need to buy an actual house (or even a condominium) to take advantage of second-home mortgage interest deductions. They can deduct interest they pay on a loan secured by a timeshare, yacht, or motorhome so long as it includes sleeping, cooking, and toilet facilities.

Gains from selling a vacation home are generally taxed as short-term or long-term capital gains.  While gain on the sale of a principal residence can be excludable, gain on the sale of a vacation home is not. Recent rules limit the amount of prior gain on a vacation residence that can be sheltered if a vacation home is converted into a primary residence.

Vacation home rentals. Many vacation home owners rent vacation homes to draw income and help finance the cost of owning the home. These rentals are taxed under one of three sets of rules depending on how long the homeowner rents the property.

  • Income from rentals totaling not more than 14 days per year is nontaxable.
  • Income from rentals totaling more than 14 days per year is taxable and is generally reported on Schedule E (Form 1040), Supplemental Income and Loss. Homeowners who rent their properties for more than 14 days can deduct a portion of their mortgage interest, property taxes, maintenance, utilities, and other expenses to offset that income. That deduction depends on how many days they use the residence personally versus how many days they rent it.
  • Owners who use their home personally for less than 14 days and less than 10% of the total rental days can treat the property as true “rental” property if certain rules are followed.

If you are considering the purchase of a vacation home, our offices can help compute your true, “after-tax” cost of ownership in determining whether such a purchase makes sense.

FAQ: What can I deduct doing volunteer work for a charity?

For many individuals, volunteering for a charitable organization is a very emotionally rewarding experience. In some cases, your volunteer activities may also qualify for certain federal tax breaks. Although individuals cannot deduct the value of their labor on behalf of a charitable organization, they may be eligible for other tax-related benefits.

Before claiming any charity-related tax benefit, whether for a donation or volunteer activity, you must determine if the charity is a “qualified organization.”  Under the tax rules, most charitable organizations, other than churches, must apply to the IRS to become a qualified organization. If you are uncertain about an organization’s status as a qualified organization, you can ask the charity. The IRS has a toll-free number (1-877-829-5500) for questions from taxpayers about charities and also maintains an online tool at http://www.irs.gov/charities.

Time or services

An individual may spend 10, 20, 30 or more hours a week volunteering for a charitable organization. Precisely because the individual is a volunteer, he or she receives no remuneration for his or her time or services and cannot deduct the value of his or her time or services spent on activities for the charitable organization. Unpaid volunteer work is not tax deductible.

Vehicle expenses

Vehicle expenses associated with volunteer activity should not be overlooked.  For example, many individuals use their personal vehicles to transport others to medical treatment or to deliver food to shut-ins. Taxpayers can deduct as a charitable contribution qualified unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenses, such as the cost of gas and oil, directly related to the use of their vehicle in giving services to a charitable organization. However, certain expenses, such as registration fees, or the costs of tires or insurance, are not deductible.  Alternatively, taxpayers can use a standard mileage rate of 14 cents per mile to calculate the amount of their contribution. Do not confuse the charitable mileage rate, which is set by statute, with business mileage rate (56.5 cents per mile for 2013), which generally changes from year to year. Parking fees and tolls are deductible whether the taxpayer uses the actual expense method or the standard mileage rate.

Uniforms

Some volunteers are required to wear a uniform, such as a jacket that identifies the wearer as a volunteer for the charitable organization, while engaged in activity for the charity. In this case, the tax rules generally allow taxpayers to deduct the cost and upkeep of uniforms that are not suitable for everyday use and that the taxpayer must wear while performing donated services for a charitable organization.

Hosting a foreign student

Qualifying expenses for a foreign student who lives in the taxpayer’s home as part of a program of the organization to provide educational opportunities for the student may be deductible. The student must not be a relative, such as a child or stepchild, or dependent of the taxpayer and also must be a full-time student in secondary school or any lower grade at a school in the U.S. Among the expenses that may be deductible are the costs of food and certain transportation spent on behalf of the student. The cost of lodging is not deductible. If you are planning to host a foreign-exchange student, please contact our office and we can explore the possible tax benefits.

Travel

Volunteers may be asked to travel on behalf of the charitable organization, for example, to attend a convention or meeting. Generally, qualified unreimbursed expenses may be deductible subject to complicated rules. Very broadly speaking, there must not be a significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation in the travel. Special rules apply if the charitable organization pays a daily travel allowance to the volunteer. There are also special rules for attendance at a church meeting or convention and the capacity in which the volunteer attends the church meeting or convention. If you plan to travel as part of your volunteer activity for a charitable organization, please contact our office and we can review your plans in greater detail.

If you have any questions, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.

IRS ruling highlights benefits of like-kind exchange, deferred tax arrangements

Gain or loss is not recognized when property held for productive use in a trade or business or for investment is exchanged for like-kind property. Instead, the taxpayer’s basis and holding period in the property transferred carries over to the property acquired in the exchange. Deferring taxable gain, always a good strategy, makes more sense than ever after the recent rise in tax rates for many taxpayers under the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.  In particular, Code Section 1031 like-kind exchanges deserve a close second look by many businesses and investors.

Flexibility

More than two properties can be exchanged and more than two parties can participate in a transaction that qualifies for non-recognition treatment. Intermediaries may be used to purchase other property before completing like-kind exchange. Taxpayers can participate in acquisition of other property and qualify for like-kind treatment if there is no actual or constructive receipt of cash proceeds from sale of their property.
It is not required that the properties be given up and received on the same day. However, if the exchange of properties is not simultaneous, the property to be received must be identified within 45 days after the date the relinquished property is transferred. In addition, the identified property must be received within 180 days after the date of transfer or the due date for the return for the tax year in which the transfer occurred, whichever date is earlier.

Certain limitations

Property not qualifying for this treatment includes inventory, securities, foreign real estate and foreign personal property. In an otherwise qualifying exchange, the receipt of boot, in the form of cash, relief from liability, or other non-qualifying property, results in the recognition of realized gain or loss to the extent of the boot received. However, gain so recognized can be postponed if the installment sale rules apply. Depreciation recapture may also result from a like-kind exchange. Losses are not recognized on the acquisition of like-kind property. To recognize a loss, the transaction must be arranged so that the non-recognition provision does not apply.

Literal conformity to the requirements of the non-recognition provisions may not be sufficient to prevent recognition of gain. The substance of the transaction must also satisfy the underlying purpose of the statute. Continuity of investment purpose continues to be emphasized as the primary rationale for non-recognition in a like-kind exchange.

Latest success story

IRS Chief Counsel just this past month approved a taxpayer’s exchange of properties as tax-free under Code Sec. 1031 even though the taxpayer used proceeds from the sale of relinquished property to pay down its liabilities. In CCA 201325011, Chief Counsel determined that such use did not trigger constructive receipt. Although taking a look at this winning arrangement may get a bit technical, it is worthwhile if only to provide another example of how like-kind exchange transactions can help your business’s tax expenses.

The arrangement. The taxpayer rents equipment to customers. The taxpayer has implemented a like-kind exchange (LKE) program to defer gain from the sales of its rental equipment. The taxpayer has engaged in multiple exchanges under a Master Exchange Agreement (MEA) with a qualified intermediary (QI). Under the MEA, the taxpayer transfers relinquished property to the QI. The QI transfers the relinquished property and acquires replacement property, which it transfers to the taxpayer.

The taxpayer maintains two lines of credit, which are used to purchase replacement property. The taxpayer also uses the lines of credit for general business operations. The lines of credit are secured by the taxpayer’s rental properties, accounts receivable, and new equipment sold to customers. The full value of the rental property secures the entire balance on the lines of credit.

The QI must deposit sales proceeds from relinquished property into a joint taxpayer/QI account, and must use the proceeds to pay down the line-of-credit balances. The QI does not use proceeds from the account receivables or the new equipment sales to pay down the lines of credit. The taxpayer then uses borrowed funds to acquire replacement property and complete its exchange. The taxpayer finances the acquisition with new debt in an amount that equals or exceeds the debt that encumbered the relinquished property. Under the MEA, the taxpayer does not have the right to receive, pledge, borrow or otherwise use the money held by the QI.

Chief Counsel’s analysis.  The IRS field attorney argued that the debt pay-down arrangement gives the taxpayer actual or constructive receipt of the proceeds from the relinquished property before the deadline for the taxpayer to obtain replacement property. IRS Chief Counsel’s Office, however, disagreed. It concluded that the taxpayer was not in constructive receipt of the proceeds received for the relinquished property. This conclusion was not affected by the use of the debt to purchase replacement property and for general business operations, or the QI’s use of the proceeds to pay down the lines of credit.
If a taxpayer receives, in part, non-like-kind property, the taxpayer must recognize gain (boot) for the amount of this property. The assumption of a liability, or the transfer of property subject to a liability, is treated as boot. If the relinquished property and the replacement property are both subject to a liability (such as a mortgage), the liabilities are netted and the difference is boot to the party being relieved of the larger mortgage.

Chief Counsel concluded that the taxpayer’s transaction was permitted by the regulations where the taxpayer is relieved of debt on the transfer of relinquished property and incurs debt on the acquisition of the replacement property. Under the boot netting rules, there is no gain to the taxpayer.

If you would like further information on how like-kind exchanges might work within your business operations, please do not hesitate to contact our offices at (908) 725-4414.

 

Many tax planning questions arise after Supreme Court’s DOMA decision

On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional (E.S. Windsor, SCt., June 26, 2013).  Immediately after the decision, President Obama directed all federal agencies, including the IRS, to revise their regulations to reflect the Court’s order.  How the IRS will revise its tax regulations – and when – remains to be seen; but in the meantime, the Court’s decision opens a number of planning tax opportunities for same-sex couples.

Background

The Supreme Court agreed in 2012 to hear an appeal of a federal estate tax case.  Due to DOMA, the surviving spouse of a same-sex married couple was ineligible for the federal unlimited marital deduction under Code Sec. 2056(a). The survivor sued for a refund of estate taxes. A federal district court and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals found unconstitutional Section 3 of DOMA, which defines marriage for federal purposes as only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.

Supreme Court’s decision

In a 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court held that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.  Writing for the five-justice majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that “DOMA rejects the long-established precept that the incidents, benefits, and obligations of marriage are uniform for all married couples within each State, though they may vary, subject to constitutional guarantees, from one State to the next.”  Kennedy explained that “by creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same State, DOMA forces same-sex couples to live as married for the purpose of state law but unmarried for the purpose of federal law, thus diminishing the stability and predictability of basic personal relations the State has found it proper to acknowledge and protect.”

Chief Justice John Roberts, who would have upheld DOMA, cautioned that “the Supreme Court did not decide if states could continue to utilize the traditional definition of marriage.” Roberts noted that the majority held that the decision and its holding “are confined to those lawful marriages-referring to same-sex marriages that a State has already recognized.”

Tax planning

The Supreme Court’s decision impacts countless provisions in the Tax Code, covering all life events, such as marriage, employment, retirement and death.  The affect on the Tax Code cannot be overstated. It is expected that the IRS will move quickly to clarify how the decision impacts many of the more far-reaching provisions, such as filing status and employee benefits. Other provisions, especially the complex estate and gift tax provisions, will likely require more time from the IRS to issue guidance.

For federal tax purposes, only married individuals can file their returns as married filing jointly or married filing separately. Because of DOMA, the IRS limited these married filing statuses to opposite-sex married couples. The IRS is expected to issue guidance. Same-sex couples who filed separate returns may want to explore the benefits of filing amended returns (as married filing jointly), if applicable. Our office will keep you posted of developments.

Among the other provisions in the Tax Code affected by the Supreme Court’s decision are:

  • Adoption benefits
  • Child tax credit
  • Education tax credits and deductions
  • Estate tax marital deduction
  • Estate tax portability between spouses
  • Gifts made by spouses
  • Retirement plans

Looking ahead

Will the federal government look to where the same-sex couple was married (state of celebration) or where the same-sex couple reside (state of residence) for purposes of federal benefits? The Supreme Court did not rule on Section 2 of DOMA, which provides that no state is required to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state. At the time of the Supreme Court’s decision, 12 states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage.

In some cases, the rules for marital status are determined by federal regulations, which can be changed without action by Congress. In other cases, the rules are set by statute, which would require Congressional action. Sometimes, a federal agency follows one rule for some purposes but another rule for other purposes. Generally, the IRS has used place of domicile for determining marital status. Our office will keep you posted of developments.

If you have any questions about the Supreme Court’s decision and its impact on tax planning, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.

 

Business identity theft, tax consequences and best practices

Facilitated by the speed, ubiquity, and anonymity of the Internet, criminals are able to easily steal valuable information such as Social Security numbers and use it for a variety of nefarious purposes, including filing false tax returns to generate refunds from the IRS. The victims are often unable to detect the crime until it is too late, generally after the IRS receives the legitimate tax return from the actual taxpayer. By that time the first return has often been long accepted and the refund processed. Because of the ease, speed, and difficulty involved in policing cybercrime, identity theft has grown rapidly. One estimate from the National Taxpayer Advocate Service has calculated that individual identity theft case receipts have increased by more than 666 percent from fiscal year (FY) 2008 to FY 2012.

There is, however, another dangerous facet of identity theft that costs the government, taxpayers, and businesses millions of dollars each year. That is business identity theft, which like its consumer counterpart involves the theft or impersonation of a business’s identity. To add insult to injury, business identity theft can have crippling federal tax consequences. The following article summarizes the problem of business taxpayer identity theft, the methods employed by thieves, and the means by which you can protect your business.

Business v. individual identity theft

Businesses generally deal with larger transactions, have larger account balances and credit lines than individual taxpayers, and can set up and accept merchant credit card payments with numerous banks. Business information regarding tax identification numbers, profit margins and revenues, officers, and even officer salaries are often public and easily accessed. At the same time remedies and enforcement tend to focus more on individual identity theft. Thus, business identity theft can be more lucrative and arguably less dangerous to engage in than individual taxpayer identity theft.

Methods used

Only some of the many business identity theft schemes relate to tax. Nevertheless, such schemes can be devastating for businesses, resulting in massive employment tax liabilities for fictitious wages or huge deficiencies in reported income. Identity thieves can use a business’s employer identification number (EIN) to initiate merchant card payment schemes, file false tax returns, and even generate hundreds of fake Form W-2s in furtherance of more individual taxpayer identity theft.

How they do it

Business identity theft can require less effort than individual identity theft because less information is required to establish a business or open a line of credit than is required of individuals. In general, the thief needs to obtain the business’s EIN, which is easy to acquire. Common sources for an EIN include:

  • Filings made to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) such as the Form 10-K, which includes the EIN on its first page;
  • Public databases that enable users to search for business entities sometimes also display the employer’s EIN;
  • Websites specifically designed to search for EINs, such as EINFinder.com;
  • Business websites sometimes openly display the EIN; and
  • Forms W-2, W-9, or 1099.

Once a thief has the EIN, he or she may file reports with various state Secretaries of State to change registered business addresses, registered agents’ names, or even appoint new officers. In some cases the thief will apply for a line of credit using this new information. Since the official Secretary of State records display the changed information, potential creditors will not be alerted to the fraud. In one case, however, criminals changed the names of a business’s officers by filing with the Secretary of State’s office and then sold the whole business to a third party. In the end, however, once an identity thief has established a business name, EIN, and address information, he or she has all the basic tools necessary to perpetrate business identity theft.

Best practices

Businesses should review their banks’ policies and recommendations regarding fraud protection. They should know what security measures are being offered and, if commercially reasonable, take them. In a recent U.S. district court case from Missouri, the court found that a bank was not liable for a fraudulent $440,000 wire transfer because it had offered the business a commercially reasonable security procedure, and the business had rejected it. The decision cited Uniform Commercial Code Article 4A-202(b), as adopted by the Missouri Code. Many other states have also adopted the UCC, meaning victimized businesses might find themselves without recourse against their banks in the event of a large fraudulent wire transfer.

Other easy preventative measures that businesses can take include monitoring their financial accounts on a daily basis. They should follow up immediately on any suspicious activity. Businesses should also enroll in email alerts so that they would immediately be apprised of any change in your account name, address, or other information.

A business should also monitor the information on its business registration frequently, whether or not the business is active or inactive. Often businesses that close do not go through the formal dissolution process, which terminates all of the corporate authority. They instead let the charter be forfeited by the Secretary of State. These forfeited charters may be easily reinstated and hijacked by identity thieves.

After fraud occurs

If it is too late, and a fraudulent transaction has occurred in your business’s name, take immediate action by contacting your bank, creditors, check verification companies, and credit reporting companies. Report the crime to your local law enforcement authorities and your state’s secretary of state business division. Finally, whenever possible, memorialize all correspondence in writing and keep it in your records.

If you’d like more information on how you can take steps to safeguard your personal or business “identity” through safeguarding your tax and other financial accounts, please contact this office at (908) 725-4414.