Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Archive for March, 2014

How do I? Elect not to carry back an NOL

Many taxpayers find the ability to carry back a net operating loss (NOL) one of the most business-friendly provisions in the Tax Code. This is often true for new businesses. In times of economic difficulty, Congress has even relaxed the NOL carryback rules. However, there may be times when it is tax-advantaged not to carry back an NOL.

NOLs

An NOL arises when allowed deductions exceed a taxpayer’s gross income for a tax year. An NOL can be generated from business activity losses as a sole proprietor or partner in a partnership, among other activities. The rules for NOLs differ for different types of business structures. Generally, taxpayers can carry back an NOL for two years and then carry it forward for 20 years.

The decision not to carry back an NOL can be influenced by a variety of factors. These include the tax rates that may have been applicable to the years in which the NOL would be carried back. Taxpayers also need to consider the impact that an NOL would have on deductions, exemptions and credits. Taxpayers may also need to weigh the benefits of carrying back an NOL against the benefits of carryovers for other deductions.

Election

The election not to carry back an NOL is made by attaching a statement to a timely filed (including extensions) return for the year in which the NOL arose. The election must state that it is made under Code Sec. 172 and provide sufficient information to identify the election, the period to which it applies and the taxpayer’s basis or entitlement for the election.

The tax rules do not allow taxpayers to relinquish a portion of an NOL. The election must be to forgo the entire NOL. However, in certain limited cases, such as farming losses, there is some flexibility in the rules. The election also must relinquish the entire carryback period.

Once made, the election to relinquish an NOL carryback cannot be revoked without the permission of the IRS. However, there have been exceptions such as under the Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009, which allowed taxpayers to revoke a previously made election not to carryback an NOL in order to take advantage of an extended carryback period under that law.

If you have any questions about electing not to carry back an NOL, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.

FAQ: Does identity theft spike at the start of the tax return filing season?

Yes. Identity theft is a growing problem and the start of the return filing season is one of the peak times for identity thieves filing fraudulent returns. Criminals file false returns early to get refunds and unsuspecting taxpayers are unaware their identities have been stolen until they file their returns. Individuals who believe they have been victims of identity theft should immediately alert their tax professional and the IRS. The IRS has a number of programs in place to assist victims of identity theft.

Identity theft

Identity theft has been the number one consumer complaint to the Federal Tax Commission for 13 consecutive years, and tax identity theft has been an increasing share of the FTC’s identity theft complaints. In 2010, tax identity theft accounted for 15 percent of the FTC’s identity theft complaints from consumers, while in 2011 it made up 24 percent of the overall identity theft complaints. In 2012, tax identity theft accounted for more than 43 percent of the identity theft complaints, making it the largest category of identity theft complaints. The IRS has reported similar growth in this troubling problem.

Identity theft occurs when a criminal uses the personal information of another to commit fraud or other crimes. Personal information includes an individual’s name, date of birth, Social Security number, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, personal identification numbers, and other identifying information.

In tax identity theft, a criminal typically uses a taxpayer’s identity to fraudulently file a tax return and claim a refund. The identity thief has obtained the taxpayer’s Social Security Number and other personal information. As mentioned, identity thieves attempt to get a refund early in the filing season. The taxpayer discovers that a false return has been filed when he or she files a genuine return.

IRS actions

The IRS has set up a special Identity Theft Protection Specialized Unit. These employees are the first responders in assisting taxpayers whose identities have been stolen. The IRS will take a report, and request that the victim complete a special form (IRS ID Theft Affidavit Form 14039). This special form requires the taxpayer to briefly describe the events giving rise to the identity theft. The taxpayer also must provide proof of his or her identity by submitting photocopies of identifying documents, such as a passport, driver’s license or other valid federal or state government-issued identification.

The IRS is assigning special identity protection personal identification numbers (IP PINs) to victims of identity theft to use when filing their returns. An IP PIN is a unique six-digit number and is assigned annually to victims of identity theft. During the 2014 filing season, the IRS reported that it expects to provide more than 1.2 million identity theft victims with an IP PIN, up from more than 770,000 in 2013.

Additionally, the IRS has overhauled its identity theft screening filters to spot suspected fraudulent returns before they are processed. After a suspected fraudulent return is flagged, the IRS will hold the return for further processing until the agency verifies it is a true return. If you receive a notice from the IRS, please contact our office immediately at (908) 725-4414.

If you have any questions about protecting yourself from identity theft or the IRS’s activities to curb tax return identity theft, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.

“Repair” regulations require taxpayer action in 2014 and beyond

The IRS’s final “repair” regulations became effective January 1, 2014. The regulations provide a massive revision to the rules on capitalizing and deducting costs incurred with respect to tangible property. The regulations apply to amounts paid to acquire, produce or improve tangible property; every business is affected, especially those with significant fixed assets.

Required and elective changes

There is a lot of work ahead for most taxpayers to comply with the new rules. There are three categories of changes under the regulations:

  • Changes that are required and are retroactive, with full adjustments under Code Sec. 481(a), in effect applying the regulations to previous years;
  • Required changes with modified or prospective Code Sec. 481(a) adjustment beginning in 2014; and
  • Elective changes that do not require any adjustments under Code Sec. 481.

Required changes with full adjustments include unit of property changes, deducting repairs (including the routine maintenance safe harbor), deducting dealer expenses that facilitate the sale of property, the optional method for rotable spare parts, capitalizing improvements and capitalizing certain acquisition or production costs. Elective changes can include capitalizing repair and maintenance costs of they are capitalized for financial accounting purposes.

Rev. Proc. 2014-16

The IRS issued Rev. Proc. 2014-16, granting automatic consent to taxpayers to change their accounting methods to comply with the final regulations. Rev. Proc. 2014-16 applies to all the significant provisions in the final regulations, such as repairs and improvements; materials and supplies, including rotable and temporary spare parts; and costs that have to be capitalized as improvements. Rev. Proc. 2014-16 supersedes Rev. Proc. 2012-19, which applied to changes made under the temporary and proposed repair regulations issued at the end of 2011.

There are 14 automatic method changes provided by Rev. Proc. 2014-16 for the repair regulations. Taxpayers may file for automatic consent on a single Form 3115, even if they are making changes in more than area. The normal scope limitations on changing accounting methods do not apply to a taxpayer making one or more changes for any tax year beginning before January 1, 2015. Scope changes would normally apply if the taxpayer is under examination, is in the final year of a trade or business, or is changing the same accounting method it changed in the previous five years.

Filing deadlines

For past years, taxpayers can apply the 2011 proposed and temporary (TD 9564) regulations or the 2013 final regulations to either 2012 or 2013, and can do this on a section-by-section basis. Taxpayers that decide to apply the final or temporary regulations to 2013 must file for an automatic change of accounting method (Form 3115) by September 15, 2014. Taxpayers applying the regulations to 2014 must file for an automatic change by September 15, 2015. (Both dates apply to calendar-year taxpayers.) The government has indicated it is unlikely to postpone the effective date of the regulations.

Dispositions

Rev. Proc. 2014-16 does not apply to dispositions of tangible property. The government issued reproposed regulations in this area (NPRM REG-110732-13). Although these regulations may not be finalized until later in 2014, the IRS expects to issue Rev. Proc. 2014-17 before then to allow taxpayers to make automatic accounting method changes under the proposed regulations. The procedure will provide some relief by allowing taxpayers to revoke general asset account elections that they made under the temporary regulations. No comments were submitted on these proposed regulations; it is likely the final regulations will not have any significant changes.

Treasury set to develop new retirement savings vehicle: myRAs

In his January 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama instructed the Treasury Department to develop a new savings vehicle called “myRA.” The new savings arrangements share many similarities with Roth IRAs but also have some unique features. At press time, the Treasury Department is expected to roll out myRAs before year-end 2014. Certain details on how they will operate continue to unfold.

Saving for retirement

In his address, President Obama cautioned that Social Security, by itself, is often not enough to meet the financial needs of retirement. Many Americans participate in retirement savings arrangements, such as 401(k) plans, but many do not. President Obama subsequently issued an executive order directing the Treasury department to create a new retirement savings arrangement-myRA-that would protect the principal contributed while earning interest at a rate based on yields on outstanding Treasury securities. The President also instructed Treasury to develop and launch myRAs before 2015.

Key features

myRAs will be offered by automatic payroll deduction and will be portable. That means the accounts will not be tied to a single employer. However, employers must choose to offer myRAs to their employees. The White House is hoping that the ease of setting up these accounts will encourage employers, especially small employers, to offer myRAs to their employees.

After Treasury launches myRAs, employees of participating employers will be able to sign up to participate in the accounts. Employees will be able to enroll in the program with a minimum contribution of $25. An employee can then elect to have a portion of each paycheck (as little as $5) directly deposited into a myRA automatically. Employers will not contribute to myRAs.

The Treasury Department has posted some basic information about myRAs. Account holders will be able to build savings for 30 years or until their myRA reaches $15,000, whichever comes first. After that, myRA balances will roll over to private-sector retirement accounts. Contributions to myRAs can be withdrawn tax-free at any time. Earnings will be tax-free unless withdrawn before the saver is age 59 ½.

Funds in a myRA will earn interest at the same variable rate as the Government Securities Investment Fund in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) available to employees of the federal government. TSP has explained that this fund invests exclusively in U.S. Treasury securities. The earnings consist entirely of interest income on the securities. TSP has acknowledged that this fund is subject to inflation risk, or the possibility that the investment will not grow enough to offset the reduction in purchasing power that results from inflation. This is one concern that some financial advisors have raised about myRAs.

More details expected

The Treasury Department is expected to issue rules and regulations for myRAs just as it has for IRAs, Roth IRAs and other retirement savings vehicles. Several questions are expected to be answered in the guidance, such as how rollover of funds in myRAs will work. The Treasury Department also is expected to describe in greater detail the income qualifications. At this time, Obama administration officials have indicated that myRAs will be available to individuals with annual incomes of less than $129,000 a year and $191,000 for couples. These amounts are expected to be adjusted annually for inflation.

As discussed above, more details about myRAs will be available as 2014 unfolds. Obama administration officials have described myRAs as “starter savings accounts” and in many respects, myRAs may be most attractive to individuals just starting out in the workforce. However, myRAs also could be part of the retirement savings portfolio of individuals who have been in the workforce longer.

If you have any questions about myRAs, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414. We will keep you posted of developments.

Final employer mandate regulations include transition relief for mid-size employers

Mid-size employers may be eligible for recently announced transition relief from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s employer shared responsibility requirements. Final regulations issued by the IRS in late January include transition relief for mid-size employers for 2015. Mid-size employers for this relief are defined generally as businesses employing at least 50 but fewer than 100 full-time employees. Exceptions and complicated measurement rules continue to apply. The final regulations also describe the treatment of seasonal employees, volunteer workers, student employees, the calculation of the employer shared responsibility payment, and much more.

Delayed implementation

As enacted in 2010, the Affordable Care Act required applicable large employers (ALEs) to make an assessable payment if any full-time employee is certified to receive a health insurance 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 (MEC) under an eligible employer-sponsored plan; or
  • The employer offers its full-time employees and their dependents the opportunity to enroll in MEC under an employer-sponsored plan, but the coverage is either unaffordable or does not provide minimum value.

The employer shared responsibility requirement was scheduled to apply January 1, 2014, the same effective date for the individual mandate and the health insurance premium assistance tax credit. In July 2013, the Obama administration announced that employer shared responsibility requirements would not apply for 2014.

The final regulations make further changes. Under the final regulations, the employer mandate will generally apply to large employers (employers with 100 or more employees) starting in 2015 and to qualified mid-size employers (employers with 50 to 99 employees) starting in 2016. Employers that employ fewer than 50 full-time employees (including full-time equivalents (FTEs)) are not subject to the employer mandate.

Caution. Determining the number of employees for purposes of the employer shared responsibility requirement is a complex calculation for many employers that is beyond the scope of this article. The Affordable Care Act and the final regulations describe how to calculate full-time employees (including FTEs) and also which employees are excluded from that calculation. Please contact our office for details about the Affordable Care Act and your business.

Transition relief for mid-size employers

Qualified employers are not subject to the employer mandate until 2016 if they satisfy certain conditions. Among other requirements, the employer must employ on average at least 50 full-time employees (including FTEs) but fewer than 100 full-time employees (including FTEs) on business days during 2014. Additionally, the final regulations impose a broad maintenance of previously offered heath coverage requirement.

The final regulations do not allow an employer to reduce the size of its workforce or the overall hours of service of its employees in order to satisfy the workforce size condition and thus be eligible for the transition relief. A reduction in workforce size or overall hours of service for bona fide business reasons, however, will not be considered to have been made in order to satisfy the workforce size condition. This provision is certainly one that is expected to generate many questions. The IRS may provide additional guidance and/or clarification in 2014 and our office will keep you posted of developments.

Additionally, the final regulations also modify the extent of required coverage. Proposed regulations required that the employer provide coverage to 95 percent of its full-time employees. The final regulations delay the 95 percent requirement until 2016 for larger employers. For 2015, larger employers need only provide coverage to 70 percent of their full-time employees.

Special types of employees

Since passage of the Affordable Care Act, questions have arisen about the treatment of certain types of employees. These include seasonal employees, short-term employees, volunteer workers, and student employees. The final regulations clarify some of the issues surrounding these employees.

Many industries employ seasonal workers. The final regulations describe who may qualify as a seasonal worker. The retail industry, which employs many workers for the holiday season, asked the IRS to specify which events or periods of time that would be treated as holiday seasons. The final regulations, however, do not indicate specific holidays or the length of any holiday season as these will differ for different employers, the IRS explained.

For volunteer workers, such as volunteer fire fighters and first responders, the final regulations provide that an individual’s hours of service do not include hours worked as a “bona fide volunteer.” This definition, the IRS explained, encompasses any volunteer who is an employee of a government entity or a Code Sec. 501(c)(3) organization whose compensation is limited to reimbursement of certain expenses or other forms of compensation.

Many college, university and vocational students are engaged in federal and state work-study programs. The final regulations provide that hours of service for purposes of the employer mandate do not include hours of service performed by students in federal or other governmental work-study programs. The IRS noted the potential for abuse by labeling individuals who receive compensation as “interns” to avoid the employer mandate. Therefore, the IRS did not adopt a special rule for student employees working as interns for an outside employer, and the general rules apply.

The final regulations also describe how the employer mandate may or may not apply to adjunct faculty, members of religious orders, airline industry employees, employees who must work “on-call” hours, short-term employees and others. Special rules may apply to these employees in some cases.

Waiting period limitation

The Affordable Care Act generally requires that an employee (or dependent) cannot wait more than 90 days before employer-provided coverage becomes effective. The IRS issued final regulations in February on the 90-day waiting period limitation. The IRS also issued proposed regulations generally allowing employers to require new employees to complete a reasonable orientation period. The proposed regulations set forth one month as the maximum length of any orientation period.

If you have any questions about the final regulations for the employer mandate, the transition relief, the 90-day waiting period, or any aspects of the Affordable Care Act, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.