Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Archive for November, 2014

How Do I? Apply the Pease limitation

affluent lifestyleHigher-income individuals whose adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds specified thresholds must reduce their itemized deductions that are otherwise allowed on their return. This reduction in itemized deductions did not apply to tax years 2010-2012, but has been reinstated, beginning in 2013. The provision does not apply to estates and trusts.

Under the Pease limitation (named for the Congressman who developed it), itemized deductions are reduced by the lesser of:

  • Three percent of the taxpayer’s AGI in excess of the applicable threshold, or
  • 80 percent of the itemized deductions otherwise allowable.

The thresholds increase for inflation every year. The thresholds for the 2014 tax year are:

  • $305,050 for married taxpayers filing joint returns and surviving spouses;
  • $279,650 for heads of household;
  • $254,200 for other single taxpayers; and
  • $152,525 for married filing separately.

The respective inflation-adjusted thresholds for 2015 are projected to be: $309,900; $284,050; $258,250; and $154,950.

In calculating the reduction, other limitations are applied first, such as the two percent floor for miscellaneous itemized deductions and the floor for medical expenses. However, the term “itemized deductions” does not include deductions for medical expenses, investment interest, casualty or theft loss, and allowable wagering losses. Thus, these latter amounts are not subject to the reduction.

Example. For 2014, married taxpayers report AGI of $355,050, or $50,000 over the applicable threshold of $300,000. They have itemized deductions of $15,000 for taxes and charitable contributions, plus $2,000 in medical expenses, for a total of $17,000. The first reduction (based on three percent of excess AGI) is ($355,050 – $305,050) x .03, or $1,500. The alternative reduction (80 percent cap) is .80 x $15,000 (medical expenses excluded), or $12,000. Since the lesser amount is $1,500, allowable itemized deductions are reduced from $17,000 to $15,500.

FAQ: What is the new de minimis safe harbor for tax expensing?

Businesses generally want to write off costs more quickly, to reduce their taxable income and their tax burden. One mechanism for accomplishing this is to deduct the costs of depreciable property rather than capitalizing them. Under Code Sec. 179, taxpayers can expense a prescribed amount of their costs for tangible depreciable property, even if the ordinary accounting treatment would be to capitalize the costs.

Code Sec. 179 applies primarily to personal property, but can apply to some real property. In recent years (through 2013), the expensing limit has been as high as $500,000 a year. However, for 2014, the expensing deduction limit is $25,000. (Congress could raise the limit for 2014 but has not done so.)

Because of the dramatic reduction in the Code Sec. 179 expensing limits, taxpayers may want to consider using the de minimis safe harbor in the final “repair” regulations as an alternative means of deducting costs that they would otherwise have to capitalize. The IRS issued final repair regulations in 2013 on the treatment of costs incurred with respect to depreciable property. The regulations are effective for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2014 and provide guidance on whether to expense or capitalize relevant costs.

The safe harbor

Safe HarborThe de minimis safe harbor applies to smaller priced items used in the business. The safe harbor can apply in the following situation: a taxpayer with a $500 per item expensing policy buys 1,000 calculators for $100 each. If the taxpayer elects the safe harbor, the taxpayer can deduct the entire cost of the calculators in the year paid or incurred. The total deduction is $100,000, much greater than the $25,000 limit under Code Sec. 179 for 2014.

The safe harbor is an election, not an accounting method. It can be applied for any year (or not) as determined by the taxpayer. The taxpayer can make an election for 2014, for example. The deadline is the extended due date of the taxpayer’s original income tax return. An election statement must be attached to the return. The election is irrevocable.

Two alternatives

There are two alternative de minimis safe harbors. The primary safe harbor, for use by any taxpayer but primarily for larger entities, allows taxpayers to deduct items that cost $5,000 or less (per item or invoice). The items must be deductible under the taxpayer’s financial accounting procedures and in accordance with the company’s applicable financial statement (AFS). An AFS is a financial statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission or another government agency, or a certified audited financial statement. The taxpayer must also have a written accounting policy, put into effect at the beginning of the year, to treat the cost of the items as an expense.

Similar requirements apply to smaller business taxpayers who do not have an AFS, with the following two differences: the accounting policy does not have to be in writing; and the amount paid for the property may not exceed $500 per invoice or per item. If the cost of the items exceeds $500 per item, the taxpayer must capitalize the cost. The taxpayer cannot avoid the $500 (or $5,000) threshold by breaking an item into components whose separate cost is below the limit. For example, the taxpayer could not split the cost of a truck into separate components such as the engine, cab, and chassis.

IRS clarifies streamlined process for disclosing offshore accounts

The IRS has provided guidance and clarifications for U.S. taxpayers who have failed to disclose offshore assets and pay taxes due. The new instructions apply to taxpayers who apply for relief under the streamlined filing compliance procedures and are effective for applications submitted on or after July 1, 2014. The streamlined program is available to all U.S. taxpayers, including resident aliens living in the United States and U.S. citizens living abroad.


The streamlined program provides reduced penalties—five percent for taxpayers in the U.S.; zero for taxpayers living outside the U.S. The program is available only to taxpayers who can demonstrate that their actions were not willful. Taxpayers whose conduct may be willful can pursue relief through the IRS’s Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP). The latter program imposes a penalty of 27.5 percent, but protects participants from potential criminal liability. Taxpayers who previously applied under the OVDP, but who have not entered into a closing agreement, can apply for reduced penalty relief under the OVDP transition program and remain in the OVDP.

While practitioners welcome the additional guidance clarifications, many are concerned about the lack of IRS guidance on the facts and analysis that will be treated as willful conduct. Taxpayers cannot participate in both the streamlined program and the OVDP. A taxpayer who applies under the streamlined program but whose claim of nonwillful conduct is rejected cannot then reapply for relief under the OVDP program.

Required forms

U.S. taxpayers are required to report and pay taxes on worldwide income, including income from foreign assets. U.S. taxpayers who own foreign assets may be required to submit any of the following forms or reports to the government:

  • Form 1040, Schedule B (Part III) – foreign accounts;
  • Form 8938, Statement of Foreign Financial Accounts – overseas assets whose value exceeds certain thresholds; and
  • Form 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) – foreign accounts above $10,000.

FBARs must be filed with Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). The IRS has enforcement authority for FBARs.

Helpful clarifications

The IRS provided separate guidance—including streamlined procedures and frequently asked questions (FAQs)—for U.S. taxpayers residing in the U.S., and U.S. taxpayers residing outside the U.S. The new guidance is helpful, for example, because it explains how U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and others who lived in the United States for a period of time can be treated as nonresidents by demonstrating that they did not have a U.S. “abode” or a “substantial presence” in the U.S. The guidance also explains which assets are counted for applying the penalty rates.

The IRS also provided guidance for taxpayers to submit delinquent information returns but who do not need to use the streamlined program or the OVDP to file returns and report and pay additional tax.

“Lame-duck” Congress returns with busy post-election tax agenda

lame duckLawmakers are scheduled to return to work after the November elections for the so-called “lame-duck” Congress. Despite what is expected to be a short session, there is likely to be movement on important tax bills.

Tax extenders

Every two years, like clockwork, the same scenario seems to play-out in Congress. Many popular but temporary tax incentives expire and lawmakers debate whether to extend them, make them permanent or abolish them. This year is no exception. The new filing season is fast approaching and many tax breaks are, at this time, unavailable because they expired after 2013.

The expired tax breaks are known as “tax extenders.” Included within this catch-call category are a variety of tax incentives for individuals and businesses. Some are widely-claimed and are often inadvertently believed by taxpayers to be permanent…they are not. Individuals who claimed the state and local sales tax deduction, higher education tuition deduction, residential energy property credit, and others, in past years cannot claim them on their 2014 returns, unless the incentives are extended. The same is true for many business tax breaks, such as bonus depreciation, enhanced Code Sec. 179 small business expensing and the research tax credit. All of these incentives expired after 2013.

Congressional logjam

The last extension of the extenders was in the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. At that time, many lawmakers wanted to discontinue the practice of renewing the extenders every two years and make some permanent while eliminating others. However, the House and Senate have taken different approaches. The Senate Finance Committee approved the EXPIRE Act (S. 2260) earlier this year. The bill extends the expired tax breaks two years. The House, on the other hand, has voted to make permanent only some of the extenders, such as bonus depreciation and Code Sec. 179 expensing.

It is unclear how lawmakers will proceed before year-end. The EXPIRE Act, while approved by committee, has yet to get a vote on the Senate floor. House GOP leaders, who endorsed the piece-meal approach to making permanent some of the extenders, have not said if they will support another comprehensive temporary extension like the EXPIRE Act. It is possible that lawmakers will punt the extenders to the new Congress that meets in January. In that case, a delayed start to the filing season is almost guaranteed. Our office will keep you posted of developments.

More tax bills

Some stand-alone tax-related bills could be passed before year-end. The ABLE Act (S. 313) enjoys bipartisan support. The ABLE Act would create new tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. Funds in the accounts could be used for qualified medical, transportation, housing, and education expenses. The Don’t Forget Our Fallen Public Safety Heroes Act (S. 2912) passed the Senate in September and could be approved by the House before year-end. The bill would exclude from income certain benefits paid to the family of a public safety officer who dies in the line of duty.

IRS funding

The federal government, including the IRS, is currently operating under a stop-gap spending bill. The temporary spending bill is scheduled to expire in December. The lame-duck Congress is expected to approve an omnibus spending bill to keep the government open. Earlier this year, appropriators in the House and Senate reached very different conclusions on funding for the IRS in 2015. House appropriators voted to cut funding; Senate appropriators voted to increase funding. The IRS has been operating under tight budgetary restraints for several years and that pattern is expected to continue into 2015.

Tax technical corrections

Congress may also take up a package of tax technical corrections. These bills are not new tax laws but are corrections to language in existing laws. For example, lawmakers may have intended that a certain language be included in a final bill and that language was left out. Frequently, these corrections are clerical. These corrections are intended to facilitate the administration of law.

If you have any questions about the extenders or year-end tax legislation, please contact our office.

Careful planning required for new ACA requirements on 2014 returns

The Affordable Care Act—enacted nearly five years ago—phased in many new requirements affecting individuals and employers. One of the most far-reaching requirements, the individual mandate, took effect this year and will be reported on 2014 income tax returns filed in 2015. The IRS is bracing for an avalanche of questions about taxpayer reporting on 2014 returns and, if liable, any shared responsibility payment. For many taxpayers, the best approach is to be familiar with the basics before beginning to prepare and file their returns.

Individual mandate

Beginning January 1, 2014, the Affordable Care Act requires individuals (and their dependents) to have minimum essential health care coverage or make a shared responsibility payment, unless exempt. This is commonly called the “individual mandate.”

Employer reporting

Nearly all employer-provided health coverage is treated as minimum essential coverage. This includes self-insured plans, COBRA coverage, and retiree coverage. Large employers will provide employees with new Form 1095-C, Employer-Provided Health Insurance Coverage and Offer, which will report the type of coverage provided. The IRS has encouraged employers to voluntarily report starting in 2015 for the 2014 plan year. Mandatory reporting begins in 2016 for the 2015 plan year.

Marketplace coverage

health care marketplaceCoverage obtained through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace is also treated as minimum essential coverage. Marketplace enrollees should expect to receive new Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement, from the Marketplace. Individuals with Marketplace coverage will indicate on their returns that they have minimum essential coverage. Because so many individuals with Marketplace coverage also qualify for a special tax credit, they will also likely need to complete new Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit (discussed below).

Medicare, Medicaid and other government coverage

Medicare, TRICARE, CHIP, Medicaid, and other government health programs are treated as minimum essential coverage. There are some very narrow exceptions but overall, most government-sponsored coverage is minimum essential coverage.


Some individuals are expressly exempt under the Affordable Care Act from making a shared responsibility payment. There are multiple categories of exemptions. They include:

  • Short coverage gap
  • Religious conscience
  • Federally-recognized Native American nation
  • Income below income tax return filing requirement

The short coverage gap applies to individuals who lacked minimum essential coverage for less than three consecutive months during 2014. They will not be responsible for making a shared responsibility payment. Individuals who are members of a religious organization recognized as conscientiously opposed to accepting insurance benefits also are exempt from the individual mandate. Similarly, members of a federally-recognized Native American nation are exempt. If a taxpayer’s income is below the minimum threshold for filing a return, he or she is exempt from making a shared responsibility payment.

The IRS has developed new Form 8965, Health Coverage Exemptions. Taxpayers exempt from the individual mandate will file Form 8965 with their federal income tax return.

Shared responsibility payment

All other individuals – individuals without minimum essential coverage and who are not exempt – must make a shared responsibility payment when they file their 2014 return. For 2014, the payment amount is the greater of: One percent of the person’s household income that is above the tax return threshold for their filing status; or a flat dollar amount, which is $95 per adult and $47.50 per child, limited to a maximum of $285. The individual shared responsibility payment is capped at the cost of the national average premium for the bronze level health plan available through the Marketplace in 2014. Taxpayers will report the amount of their individual shared responsibility payment on their 2014 Form 1040.

The IRS has cautioned that it will offset a taxpayer’s refund if he or she fails to make a shared responsibility payment if required. However, the Affordable Care Act prevents the IRS from using its lien and levy authority to collect an unpaid shared responsibility payment.

Code Sec. 36B credit

Only individuals who obtain coverage through the Marketplace are eligible for the Code Sec. 36B premium assistance tax credit. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has reported that more than two-thirds of Marketplace enrollees are eligible for the credit and many enrollees have received advance payment of the credit.

All advance payments of the credit must be reconciled on new Form 8962, which will be filed with the taxpayer’s income tax return. Taxpayers will calculate the actual credit they qualified for based on their actual 2014 income. If the actual premium tax credit is larger than the sum of advance payments made during the year, the individual will be entitled to an additional credit amount. If the actual credit is smaller than the sum of the advance payments, the individual’s refund will be reduced or the amount of tax owed will be increased, subject to a sliding scale of income-based repayment caps.

A change in circumstance, such as marriage or the birth/adoption of a child, could increase or decrease the amount of the credit. Individuals who are receiving an advance payment of the credit should notify the Marketplace of any life changes so the amount of the advance payment can be adjusted if necessary. Please contact our office if you have any questions about the Code Sec. 36B credit.

IRS officials have told Congress that the agency is ready for the new filings and reporting requirements. Our office will keep you posted of developments.