Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Archive for May, 2014

How do I? Write off baseball season tickets to my business

Code Sec. 162 permits a business to deduct its ordinary and necessary expenses for carrying on the business. However, Code Sec. 274 restricts the deduction of entertainment expenses incurred for business by disallowing expenses of entertainment activities and entertainment facilities. Many expenses are totally disallowed; other amounts, if allowed under Code Sec. 274, are limited to 50 percent of the expense.

The income tax regulations define entertainment as any activity of a type generally considered to be entertainment, amusement, or recreation, such as entertaining at night clubs, lounges, theaters, country clubs, golf and athletic clubs, and sports events, as well as hunting, fishing, vacation and similar trips.

There are special rules for the costs of facilities used to entertain the customer, such as a boat or a country club membership. Dues or fees for any social, athletic or sporting club or organization are treated as items involving facilities.

Deduction allowed

Expenses are allowed if the expense was either “directly related” to the active conduct of the taxpayer’s trade or business, or “associated with” the conduct of the trade or business. An activity is “associated with” business if the activity directly precedes or follows a substantial and bona fide business discussion.

Entertainment expenses are not directly related to the business if the activity occurred under circumstances with little or no possibility of engaging in the active conduct of the trade or business. These circumstances include an activity where the distractions are substantial, such as a meeting or discussion at a night club, theater, or sporting event. However, taking a customer to a meal at a restaurant or for drinks at a bar can be considered conducive to a business discussion, if there are no substantial distractions to a discussion.

Substantial business discussion

For expenses that are either directly related to or associated with business, the taxpayer must establish that the he or she conducted a substantial and bona fide business discussion with the customer. The IRS has said that there is no specified length for a discussion to be substantial; all facts and circumstances will be considered. The discussion is substantial if the active conduct of the business was the principal character of the combined business and entertainment activity, but it is not necessary that more time be devoted to business than to entertainment.

For an activity that is associated with, the discussion can directly precede or follow the activity. For a discussion to be directly before or after the activity, it generally must be on the same day as the activity. However, facts and circumstances may allow the entertainment and the discussion to be on consecutive days, for example if the customer is from out of town.

Season tickets

Baseball Ticket WriteoffThe special rules for facilities do not apply to season tickets. Instead, the taxpayer must allocate the cost of the season tickets to each separate entertainment event. The amount deductible is limited to the face value of the ticket. For a “skybox” or other area leased and used exclusively by the taxpayer and guests, the amount deductible is limited to the face value of non-luxury seats for the area covered by the lease.

Under these rules, it appears that the deductible costs of baseball season tickets must be determined separately for each baseball game. Attendance at a baseball game would involve a “distracting” activity that is not conducive to a business discussion, so the cost of the game would not be directly related to the conduct of the trade or business. However, attendance at a game before or after the conduct of a substantial business discussion could qualify as being associated with the business; in these circumstances, the cost of the event would be deductible.

If the taxpayer provided food to the customer at the baseball game, the cost of the food would be deductible as part of the cost of the event. Some “luxury” seats include food provided by the baseball team to the ticket user. It appears that the taxpayer would have to determine the fair market value of the ticket and the food separately, although the costs of food actually provided to the customer may still be deductible.

FAQs: What are AFRs for tax purposes?

The applicable federal rates (AFRs) are used for a number of federal tax provisions. For example, Code Sec. 1274 uses AFRs to determine whether a debt instrument has original issue discount (OID or imputed interest). This determination requires the calculation of the present value of payments made on the debt instrument; present value is calculated using a discount rate equal to the AFR, compounded semi-annually.

Determining AFRs

AFRs are based on the average market yield on outstanding marketable obligations of the United States government. Under Code Sec. 1274(d), the AFR includes the federal short-term rate (based on the interest rates for debt instruments of three years or less); the federal mid-term rate (based on the rates for debt instruments of three to nine years); and the federal long-term rate (based on the rates for debt instruments exceeding nine years).

The IRS computes AFRs for each calendar month and publishes them in a revenue ruling. As an example, Rev. Rul. 2014–1, published January 6, 2014, provided the AFRs for January 2014. AFRs may be compounded (and therefore applied) monthly, quarterly, semiannually, or annually. In addition, some amounts are calculated using a higher percentage of the basic AFR. The monthly revenue rulings provide AFRs equal to 110 percent of the base AFR, 120 percent, 130 percent, 150 percent, and 175 percent.

Applying AFRs

The Tax Code uses AFRs to determine appropriate amounts under a multitude of provisions. These include:

  • The present value of an annuity, life interest, term of years interest, remainder interest, or reversionary interest under Code Sec. 7520;
  • Loans with below-market interest rates, under Code Sec. 7872 (the applicable rate depending on the term of the loan);
  • Insurance reserves under Code Sec. 807, as well as insurance provisions under Code Secs. 811 and 812;
  • The present value of golden parachute payments under Code Sec. 280G (120 percent of the AFR, compounded semiannually);
  • Payments for the use of property or services under Code Sec. 467;
  • Unrelated business income and debt-financed income under Code Sec. 514; and
  • The recharacterization of gain from straddles under Code Sec. 1058.

The AFR revenue rulings also provide adjusted AFRs, which are used to determine the Code Sec. 382 limits on NOLs following ownership changes, and to determine OID on tax-exempt obligations under Code Sec. 1288.

IRS treats virtual currency as property

As virtual currencies such as Bitcoin rise in prominence and use, the IRS has for the first time described how virtual currency will be treated for tax purposes. The agency concluded in new guidance (Notice 2014–21) that Bitcoin and other virtual currencies like it are not to be treated as currency, but as property.

Definition of virtual currency

Actual (or “real”) currency is commonly defined as a system of money in general use in a particular country. The U.S. dollar is an example of actual currency. A single definition of virtual currency, on the other hand, has not yet achieved widespread acceptance. Virtual currency (sometimes referred to as “cryptocurrency”) is a medium of exchange that operates like actual currency under some circumstances. Currently, virtual currency does not have legal tender status in any jurisdiction.

How virtual currency works

BitcoinVirtual currency that has an equivalent value in real currency, or that acts as a substitute for real currency, is referred to as “convertible” virtual currency. Currently, the most prominent example of a convertible virtual currency is Bitcoin, which can be digitally traded between users and can be purchased for, or exchanged into, U.S. dollars, Euros, and other real currencies.

A Bitcoin is created, or “mined,” electronically, according to a purely mathematical process. A complex computer algorithm is applied. As more and more Bitcoins are mined, the difficulty of doing so will increase, as it becomes computationally more difficult to create them. This process was designed to mimic the production rate of a commodity such as gold.

Companies like BitPay or Coinbase act as intermediaries in Bitcoin transactions. According to Adam White, the Director of Business Development and Sales at Coinbase, over a million customers use Coinbase as their “Bitcoin wallet,” allowing Coinbase to accept Bitcoin payments on their behalf using its payment tools. This includes over 28,000 merchants.

Fees associated with virtual currency transactions are relatively small in contrast with higher fees charged to businesses accepting credit cards. Credit card companies generally charge businesses a fee per swipe of the card, plus two to four percent of the total transaction. On the other hand, businesses that use a merchant processor pay fees of one percent, or less, for Bitcoin transactions. However, virtual currencies are volatile and involve high risk. For example, the value of a Bitcoin went from pennies to $1,200 in a five-year period, and then back down to around $500, where it rested as on April 22, 2014.

U.S. tax treatment

The IRS acknowledged that virtual currency may be used to pay for goods or services, or held for investment. The IRS issued guidance providing answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about virtual currency, offering Bitcoin as an example. The FAQs at present provide only basic information on the tax implications of transactions in, or using, virtual currency.

Property. Notice 2014–21 states that virtual currency will be treated as property for U.S. federal tax purposes. As such, it is governed by the same general principles that apply to property transactions generally. The sale or exchange of convertible virtual currency, or its use to pay for goods or services in a real-world economy transaction, has immediate tax consequences that would not apply if it were considered pure “legal tender.”

Conversion required. A taxpayer who receives virtual currency in payment for goods or services is required to include the fair market value of the virtual currency in computing gross income. This value must be measured in U.S. dollars as of the date the virtual currency was received. The basis in virtual currency is its fair market value on the date of receipt, determined by converting the virtual currency to U.S. dollars (or another real currency which can be converted into U.S. dollars) at the applicable exchange rate in a reasonable manner that is consistently applied.

Capital gain or ordinary income. The character of gain or loss from the sale or exchange of virtual currency depends on whether the virtual currency is a capital asset in the hands of the taxpayer. If the virtual currency is held as inventory, for example, for sale to customers in a trade or business, gain or loss on its disposition will be ordinary gain or loss. If the virtual currency is held as an investment, gain or loss on its disposition will be capital in nature.
It remains unclear whether Bitcoins will be treated as “coins” for purposes of the 28 percent capital gains rate on collectibles; or whether they will be considered a permitted investment within individual retirement accounts or in other, similar circumstances.

A taxpayer who creates, or mines, virtual currency realizes gross income on receipt of the virtual currency resulting from that activity. The fair market value of the virtual currency as of that date is includible in gross income.

Information reporting. A payment made using virtual currency is subject to information reporting to the same extent as any other payment made in property. Thus, a person who makes a payment of fixed and determinable income using virtual currency with a value in excess of $600 to a U.S. non-exempt recipient is required to report the payment to the IRS and to the payee. This includes payment of rent, salaries, wages, premiums, annuities, and compensation.

Wages paid to employees using virtual currency are taxable to the employee, must be reported by an employer on a Form W–2, and are subject to federal income tax withholding. Also, payments using virtual currency made to independent contractors and other service providers are taxable, and self-employment tax rules generally apply to such payments. Payers using virtual currency must normally issue Form 1099 to the payee.

Penalties. Taxpayers who fail to report their income from virtual currency may potentially be subject to tax penalties. At the April 2 House Committee’s Bitcoin hearing, L. Michael Couvillion, Professor, Plymouth State University, New Hampshire, pointed out that taxpayers who treated virtual currencies inconsistently with IRS Notice 2014–21 before it was issued will not receive penalty relief unless they can establish that their underpayment or failure to properly file information returns was due to reasonable cause. This will require many businesses and individuals to go back and determine the existence of gain or loss on transactions that occurred in the past, perhaps several years in the past.

NEW Net Investment Income tax creates unique issues with trusts

A new tax applies to certain taxpayers, beginning in 2013—the 3.8 percent Net Investment Income (NII) Tax. This is a surtax that certain higher-income taxpayers may owe in addition to their income tax or alternative minimum tax. The tax applies to individuals, estates, and trusts (but not to corporations). Individuals are subject to the tax if they have NII, and their adjusted gross income exceeds a specified threshold—$250,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly; $200,000 for unmarried individuals.

For trusts, the NII tax applies at a much lower income level—the amount at which the highest tax bracket for a trust begins. This may sound high, but in fact, it is not. For 2014, this bracket begins at $12,150. A trust subject to the NII tax may lower or eliminate its potential liability by distributing NII to its beneficiaries, because the tax applies only to the undistributed NII for the year. The tax may then apply to the recipient, but based on the recipient’s income level.

Exempt and nonexempt trusts

Some trusts are exempt from the NII tax: cemetery perpetual care funds; Alaska Native Settlement Trusts electing to be taxed under Code Sec. 646; wholly charitable trusts; and foreign trusts. However, other trusts are not exempt. These include pooled income funds (where individuals donate remainder interests to charity while retaining an income interest); qualified funeral trusts; electing small business trusts; and charitable remainder trusts.

Passive activity

For individuals, trusts, and estates, the tax applies to income from a trade or business that is a passive activity with respect to the taxpayer. A trade or business is not passive if the taxpayer materially participates in the activity (as determined under Code Sec. 469). There is IRS guidance for determining whether an individual materially participates in an activity.

Material participation

The IRS has never provided guidance on how to determine whether a trust or estate materially participates in a trade or business. When the IRS issued final regulations on the NII tax, it said that the issue was under study, but the IRS has not indicated whether it will issue guidance on the issue.

NII TaxThe IRS regulations conclude that the application of the material participation requirements to trust income potentially subject to the NII tax must be determined at the trust level. The treatment of the income as passive or nonpassive, once determined for the trust, flows through to trust beneficiaries who receive a distribution of NII. Thus, if the trust materially participates in the activity that generated the income, the income is nonpassive to both the trust and its beneficiaries, regardless of the age or involvement of the beneficiaries. If the trust did not materially participate, the income is passive to both the trust and its beneficiaries, even if a beneficiary materially participated in the activity.

Post filing-season checkup for 2014 tax savings

Future Display - financialWith the April 15th filing season deadline now behind us, it’s not too early to turn your attention to next year’s deadline for filing your 2014 return. That refocus requires among other things an awareness of the direct impact that many “ordinary,” as well as one-time, transactions and events will have on the tax you will eventually be obligated to pay April 15, 2015. To gain this forward-looking perspective, however, taking a moment to look back … at the filing season that has just ended, is particularly worthwhile. This generally involves a two-step process: (1) a look-back at your 2013 tax return to pinpoint new opportunities as well as “lessons learned;” and (2) a look-back at what has happened in the tax world since January 1st that may indicate new challenges to be faced for the first time on your 2014 return.

Your 2013 Form 1040

Examining your 2013 Form 1040 individual tax return can help you identify certain changes that you might want to consider this year, as well encourage you to continue what you’re doing right. These “key ingredients” to your 2014 return may include, among many others considerations, a fresh look at:
Your refund or balance due. While it is nice to get a big refund check from the IRS, it often indicates unnecessary overpayments over the course of the year that has provided the federal government with an interest-free loan in the form of your money. Now’s the time to investigate the reasons behind a refund and whether you need to take steps to lower wage withholding and/or quarterly estimated tax payments.

If on the other hand you had to pay the IRS when filing your return (or requesting an extension), you should consider whether it was due to a sudden windfall of income that will not repeat itself; or because you no longer have the same itemized deductions, you had a change in marital status, or you claimed a one-time tax credit such as for energy savings or education. Likewise, examining anticipated changes between your 2013 and 2014 tax years—marriage, the birth of a child, becoming a homeowner, retiring, etc.—can help warn you whether your’re headed for an underpayment or overpayment of your 2014 tax liability.
Investment income. One area that blindsided many taxpayers on their 2013 returns was the increased tax bill applicable to investment income. Because of the “great recession,” many investors had carryforward losses that could offset gains realized for a number of years as markets gradually improved. For many, however, 2013 saw not only a significant rise in investment income but also a rise in realized taxable investment gains that were no longer covered by carryforward losses used up during the 2010–2012 period.

Furthermore, dividends and long-term capital gains for the first time in 2013 were taxed at a new, higher 20 percent rate for higher income taxpayers and an additional 3.8 percent net investment income tax surtax for those in the higher income brackets. Short-term capital gains saw the highest rate jump, from 35 percent to 43.4 percent rate, which reflected a new 39.6 percent regular rate and the new 3.8 percent net investment income tax rate. This tax structure remains in place for 2014.

Personal exemption/itemized deductions.

Effective January 1, 2013, the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) revived the personal exemption phaseout (PEP). The applicable threshold levels are $250,000 for unmarried taxpayers; $275,000 for heads of households; $300,000 for married couples filing a joint return (and surviving spouses); and $150,000 for married couples filing separate returns (adjusted for inflation after 2013). Likewise, for it revived the limitation on itemized deductions (known as the “Pease” limitation after the member of Congress who sponsored the original legislation) for those same taxpayers.

Medical and dental expenses.

Starting in 2013, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) increased the threshold to claim an itemized deduction for unreimbursed medical expenses from 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI) to 10 percent of AGI. However, there is a temporary exemption for individuals age 65 and older until December 31, 2016. Qualified individuals may continue to deduct total medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income through 2016. If the qualified individual is married and only one spouse is age 65 or older, the taxpayer may still deduct total medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income.


If you cannot find the paperwork necessary to prove your right to a deduction or credit, you cannot claim it. An organized tax recordkeeping system—whether on paper or computerized–therefore is an essential component to maximizing tax savings.

Filing Season Developments

So far this year, the IRS, other federal agencies and the courts have issued guidance on individual and business taxation, retirement savings, foreign accounts, the ACA, and much more. Congress has also been busy working up a “tax extenders” bill as well as tax reform proposals. All these developments can impact how you plan to maximize benefits on your 2014 income tax return.

Tax reform.

President Obama, the chairs of the House and Senate tax writing committees, and individual lawmakers all made tax reform proposals in early 2014. The proposals range from comprehensive tax reform to more piece-meal approaches. Although only small, piecemeal proposals have the most promising chances for passage this year, taxpayers should not ignore the broader push toward tax reform that will be taking shape in 2015 and 2016.

Tax extenders.

The Senate Finance Committee (SFC) approved legislation (EXPIRE Act) in April that would extend nearly all of the tax extenders that expired after 2013. Included in the EXPIRE Act are individual incentives such as the state and local sales tax deduction, the higher education tuition deduction, transit benefits parity, and the classroom teacher’s deduction; along with business incentives such as enhanced Code 179 small business expensing, bonus depreciation, the research tax credit, and more. Congress may now move quickly on an extenders bill or it may not come up with a compromise until after the November mid-term elections. Many of these tax benefits are significant and will directly impact the 2014 tax that taxpayers will pay.

Individual mandate.

The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate took effect January 1, 2014. Individuals failing to carry minimum essential coverage after January 1, 2014 and who are not exempt from the requirement will make an individual shared responsibility payment when they file their 2014 federal income tax returns in 2015. There are some exemptions, including a hardship exemption if the taxpayer experienced problems in signing up with a Health Insurance Marketplace before March 31, 2014. Further guidance is expected before 2014 tax year returns need to be filed, especially on how to calculate the payment and how to report to the IRS that an individual has minimum essential coverage.

Employer mandate.

The ACA’s shared responsibility provision for employers (also known as the “employer mandate”) will generally apply to large employers starting in 2015, rather than the original 2014 launch date. Transition relief provided in February final regulations provides additional time to mid-size employers with 50 or more but fewer than 100 employees, generally delaying implementation until 2016. Employers that employ fewer than 50 full-time or full time equivalent employees are permanently exempt from the employer mandate. The final regulations do not change this treatment under the statute.

Other recent tax developments to be aware of for 2014 planning purposes include:

  • IRA rollovers. The IRS announced that, starting in 2015, it intends to follow a one-rollover-per-year limitation on Individual Retirement Account (IRA) rollovers as an aggregate limit.
  • myRAs. In January, President Obama directed the Treasury Department to create a new retirement savings vehicle, “myRA,” to be rolled out before 2015.
  • Same-sex married couples. In April, the IRS released guidance on how the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision, which struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), applies to qualified retirement plans, opting not to require recognition before June 26, 2013.
  • Passive activity losses. The Tax Court found in March that a trust owning rental real estate could qualify for the rental real estate exception to passive activity loss treatment.
  • FATCA deadline. The IRS has indicated that it is holding firm on the July 1, 2014, deadline for foreign financial institutions (FFIs) to comply with the FATCA information reporting requirements or withhold 30 percent from payments of U.S.-source income to their U.S. account holders.
  • Vehicle depreciation. The IRS announced that inflation-adjusted limitations on depreciation deductions for business use passenger autos, light trucks and vans first placed in service during calendar year 2014 are relatively unchanged from 2013 (except for first year $8,000 bonus depreciation that may be removed if Congress does not act in time.
  • Severance payments. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court held that supplemental unemployment benefits (SUB) payments made to terminated employees and not tied to the receipt of state unemployment benefits are wages for FICA tax purposes.
  • Virtual currency. The IRS announced that convertible virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin, would be treated as property and not as currency, thus creating immediate tax consequences for those using Bitcoins to pay for goods.

Please contact this office at (908) 725-4414 if you’d like further information on how an examination of your 2013 return, and examination of recent tax developments, may point to revised strategies for lowering your eventual tax bill for 2014.