Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Posts tagged ‘capital gains’

Shifting Capital Gains to Your Children

If you’re an investor looking to save tax dollars, your kids might be able to help you out. Giving appreciated stock or other investments to your children can minimize the impact of capital gains taxes. (more…)

FAQ: How are vacation homes taxed?

Vacation homes offer owners many tax breaks similar to those for primary residences. Vacation homes also offer owners the opportunity to earn tax-advantaged and even tax-free income from a certain level of rental income. The value of vacation homes are also on the rise again, offering an investment side to ownership that can ultimately be realized at a beneficial long-term capital gains rate.

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 motor home so long as it includes sleeping, cooking, and toilet facilities.

Capital gain on vacation properties. Gains from selling a vacation home are generally taxed as long-term capital gains on Schedule D. As with a primary residence, basis includes the property’s contract price (including any mortgage assumed or taken “subject to”), nondeductible closing costs (title insurance and fees, surveys and recording fees, transfer taxes, etc.), and improvements. “Adjusted proceeds” include the property’s sale price, minus expenses of sale (real estate commissions, title fees, etc.). The maximum tax on capital gain is now 20 percent, with an additional 3.8 percent net investment tax depending upon income level. There’s no separate exclusion that applies when selling a vacation home as there is up to $500,000 for a primary residence.

Vacation home rentals. Many vacation home owners rent those 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.

  1. Income from rentals totaling not more than 14 days per year is nontaxable.
  2. Income from rentals totaling more than 14 days per year is taxable and is generally reported on Schedule E of Form 1040. 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.
  3. 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, which entitled them to a greater number of deductions.

Congress leaves tax law up in the air

Lawmakers have departed Washington to campaign before the November 6 elections and left undone is a long list of unfinished tax business.  In many ways, the last quarter of 2012 is similar to 2010, when Congress and the White House waited until the eleventh hour to extend expiring tax cuts. Like 2010, a host of individual and business tax incentives are scheduled to expire.  Unlike 2010, lawmakers are confronted with massive across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take effect in 2013.

Unfinished business

Since the start of 2012, the list of tax measures waiting for Congressional action has remained unchanged. Among the individual tax provisions scheduled to expire after 2012 are:

  • Reduced individual income tax rates
  • Reduced capital gains and dividend tax rates
  • Temporary repeal of the limitation on itemized deductions and the personal exemption phaseout for higher income taxpayers
  • Reduced estate, gift and generation-skipping transfer tax rates
  • Enhancements to many education tax incentives, such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit, Coverdell education savings accounts, and more.

Also scheduled to expire at the end of 2012 is the payroll tax holiday.  The employee share of Social Security taxes is 4.2 percent rather than 6.2 percent, up to the Social Security earnings cap of $110,100 for 2012.  Self-employed individuals benefit from a similar reduction.

Additionally, many so-called tax extenders for individuals expired after 2011.  They include the state and local sales tax deduction, the teachers’ classroom expense deduction, and more.  The most recent alternative minimum tax (AMT) “patch” expired after 2011.

The list of expiring or expired tax incentives for businesses is just as long.  They include:

  • Enhanced Code Sec. 179 expensing (after 2012)
  • 100 percent bonus depreciation (generally after 2011)
  • 50 percent bonus depreciation (generally after 2012)
  • Research tax credit (after 2011)
  • Production tax credit for wind energy (after 2012)
  • Enhanced Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) for veterans (after 2012)
  • Regular WOTC (after 2011)
  • A lengthy laundry list of business tax extenders, such as special expensing rules for television and film productions, the Indian employment credit, and more (after 2011).

Along with all of the expiring provisions are even more pending proposals. They include proposals by the White House to enact tax incentives to encourage employers to hire long-term unemployed individuals, impose a minimum tax on overseas profits and more. The likelihood of any of these proposals being enacted before year-end is slim, but they could be revisited in 2013 depending on the outcome of the November elections. Comprehensive tax reform, including any reduction in the individual tax rates below their 2012 levels and a reduction in the corporate tax rate, is also expected to wait until 2013 or beyond.

Behind the scenes talks

The lame-duck Congress, which will meet after the November elections, may tackle some or all of the expiring tax incentives, or it could do nothing and punt them to the next Congress.  Behind the scenes, some Democrats and Republicans in Congress are reportedly talking about a short-term extension of the expiring/expired provisions, for six months or one year, which would give lawmakers and the White House more time to reach an overall agreement.  However, the dynamic could and likely will change if the GOP takes the White House and wins control of the Senate.

In the Senate, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-ND, has told reporters that he and several other senators from both parties have been discussing whether or not to extend the expiring tax cuts. Conrad, who is retiring at the end of 2012, has acknowledged that Democrats and Republicans are far apart on revenue raisers and spending cuts.  Reports of informal talks among the members of the House Ways and Means Committee have also circulated but no concrete proposals have so far been revealed.

Sequestration

The imminent spending cuts (called sequestration) are the result of the Budget Control Act of 2011.  The 2011 Act imposes approximately $110 billion in spending cuts, impacting defense and non-defense spending, for 2013.  Almost every area of federal spending, including tax enforcement, will be affected.

In recent months, some lawmakers have proposed to mitigate the spending cuts by raising revenues elsewhere.  One area targeted for tax increases is the oil and gas industry.  However, several attempts to repeal tax preferences for the oil and gas industry failed in Congress in 2012.

Any extension of the expiring tax breaks will have to take into account the looming across-the-board spending cuts. Tax reform and debt reduction will go hand-in-hand.  However, it is unclear if debt reduction will drive tax reform or vice-versa.  Our office will keep you posted of developments.

Please contact our office at (908) 725-4414, if you have any questions about pending federal tax legislation.

Timing gains and losses: selloff before rising rates

In 2012, many taxpayers will have additional considerations when analyzing whether to sell investments before the end of the year or retain them in 2013. First, the Bush-era tax cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of 2012. This affects ordinary income rates, as well as rates on capital gains and dividends. Second, under the health care law, a new 3.8 percent Medicare tax on unearned income, including interest, dividends and capital gains, will take effect in 2013. Together, these real and potential changes may add up to hefty new taxes in 2013, unless Congress takes action otherwise.

Income tax rates

Current income tax rates continue through the end of 2012.  These include the overall individual income tax rates, currently at 10, 15, 25, 28, 33 and 35 percent. If Congress does not take any action, these rates revert to the higher rates that used to apply: 15, 28, 31, 36, and 39.6 percent. Republicans favor retaining all of the Bush-era rates. President Obama and many Democrats support retaining the 10, 15, 25, and 28 percent rates for lower- and middle-income taxpayers, while reinstating the 36 and 39.6 percent rates for taxpayers with income over $200,000 (single taxpayers) or $250,000 for joint filers.

Additionally, there are calls for tax reform and for an overall lowering of income tax rates, in exchange for ending unspecified tax deductions and benefits. For example, House Republicans have called for replacing current income tax rates with two brackets, of 10 and 25 percent.

Capital gains and dividends

Current income tax rates that extend through the end of 2012 also include the 15 percent rate on capital gains and qualified dividends for qualified taxpayers. If Congress does not act, these rates revert to much higher ordinary income rates, in the case of dividends, and to the 20 percent rate that formerly applied to capital gains. Again, the President and the Republicans would both extend the current rates, but disagree on whether to apply the extensions to all taxpayers (the Republicans) or only to lower- and middle-income taxpayers under the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds (the President).

3.8 percent tax

Adding to the mix is the impending 3.8 percent tax on unearned income. Under the health care law, this tax will apply to 2013 income (and beyond) of single taxpayers with income exceeding $200,000 and joint filers with income exceeding $250,000. The tax is imposed on the lesser of net investment income or the excess of adjusted gross income about the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds.

Net investment income also includes rents, royalties, gain from disposing of property used in a passive activity, and income from a trade or business that is a passive activity. The tax does not apply to distributions from retirement plans and IRAs. Taxpayers cannot necessarily avoid the tax by moving assets to a trust, because the tax will apply if trust income exceeds a threshold currently set at only $11,200.

Sell or hold

Generally, taxpayers should make investment decisions based on economics, holding on to a “good” investment and selling a “bad” investment. This involves looking at past performance and perhaps gazing into a crystal ball. Taxpayers that are debating whether to sell appreciated assets or assets that pay qualified dividends may want to act in 2012, when income tax rates are lower and before the 3.8 percent tax takes effect. Taxpayers considering the sale of declining assets may want to consider holding off until 2013, when losses can offset more highly-taxed gains and reduce the income potentially subject to the 3.8 percent tax.

Because the 3.8 percent tax does not apply to tax-free income, such as municipal bonds and distributions from a Roth IRA, taxpayers may want to shift some of their investments to yield nontaxable income. While the income from converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA would be included in the income calculations, qualifying distributions after the conversion would not be included.

Again, the decision must make economic sense. If the taxpayer expects an asset to continue to decline in value during 2012, he or she should sell the asset soon and not wait until 2013. Another consideration is the bunching of income. Taxpayers that sell substantial capital gains assets in 2013 may push their income up to the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds that trigger higher taxes. If the taxpayer is considering a sell-off of assets, it may make more sense to sell assets before 2013.

If a taxpayer wants to shift to more conservative investments, income yields may decline, but so will the incidence of the dividend, capital gains, and unearned income taxes described above. On the other hand, taxpayers looking at more speculative investments should understand that a successful investment may generate income taxed at higher rates in 2013.

Please contact our office at (908) 725-4414 if you have any questions.

Fate of Bush-era tax cuts

Congress’ Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the so-called “super committee”) failed to reach an agreement by its November 23 deadline after weeks of sparring over the Bush-era tax cuts.  The Budget Control Act of 2011 created the bipartisan super committee in August and instructed it to develop proposals to reduce the federal budget deficit by November 23.  The super committee held many meetings and reportedly debated several proposals, all behind closed doors, to reform the Tax Code and entitlement programs. In the end, however, Democrats and the GOP remained far apart on taxes and entitlement programs and announced they could not agree on a final proposal.

Bush-era tax cuts

One tax item in particular appeared to frustrate the progress of the super committee:  the fate of the Bush-era tax cuts.  Last year, the White House and Congress agreed to extend the Bush-era tax cuts through 2012. Under current law, the following Bush-era tax cuts (not an exhaustive list) will expire after 2012 unless extended:

  • Reduced individual income tax rates (10, 15, 28, 33, and 35 percent)
  • Reduced capital gains and dividends tax rates
  • Marriage penalty relief (expanded 15 percent tax bracket for joint filers and standard deduction for married couples twice that of single individuals)
  • Repeal of the limitation on itemized deductions for higher income taxpayers
  • Repeal of the phase out of personal exemptions for higher income taxpayers

In September, President Obama sent the super committee a plan that would have extended the Bush-era tax cuts for lower and moderate income individuals but not for higher income taxpayers (which the White House defines as single individuals with incomes over $200,000 and married couples with incomes over $250,000).   The House GOP presented a plan that would have lowered the maximum individual and corporate tax rates to 25 percent.  Several committees and individual lawmakers also sent deficit reduction plans to the super committee.

In the days leading up to the November deadline, Democratic and Republican members of the super committee acknowledged that they had reached little common ground over the fate of the Bush-era tax cuts. On November 21, the co-chairs of the super committee announced that that they “[had] come to the conclusion that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline.”

With the super committee sidelined, the fate of the Bush-era tax cuts moves to Congress and the White House.  The GOP-controlled House could try to extend the Bush-era tax cuts in stand-alone legislation but any bill would likely fail to pass the Senate. Additionally, President Obama has repeatedly said he will veto legislation that extends the Bush-era tax cuts for higher income taxpayers.

Payroll tax cut

More immediately, the White House and Congress are currently debating the fate of extending for another year the 2011 payroll tax cut. Wage earners and self-employed individuals took home more pay in 2011 because of a temporary reduction in the employee-share of old age, survivors and disability (OASDI) taxes.  The employee-share of OASDI taxes was reduced from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for calendar year 2011 (with similar relief provided to self-employed individuals). ). Although both sides of the aisle in Congress agree that an extension through 2012 is desirable, consensus must be achieved in agreeing to ways to pay for its $263 billion price tag.  An agreement is expected sometime in December, although prospects are not entirely certain.

Budget cuts

The super committee’s failure to deliver a deficit reduction plan automatically triggers spending cuts after 2012. Under the Budget Control Act, the spending reductions will be achieved through a combination of sequestration (for FY 2013) and the downward adjustment of discretionary spending limits for FY 2014-FY 2021. This means that Congress must determine the manner in which reductions are made to the federal government’s budget, including the IRS, through the annual appropriations process each year.  However, some programs, such as Social Security and Medicaid, are exempt from the budget cuts.

President Obama and Congress could agree to modify the spending reductions under the Budget Control Act.  On November 21, President Obama said he will veto any bills that remove the automatic triggers in the Budget Control Act. President Obama is reportedly using the veto threat to keep pressure on Congress to reach an agreement over the fate of the Bush-era tax cuts and entitlement spending.

If you have any questions about the super committee, the Bush-era tax cuts or the prospects for tax reform, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.

Year-end investment strategies

As 2011 winds down, investors should consider several last-minute strategies to improve their bottom line tax liability. Many of these strategies follow traditional advice applicable to any year-end. Others, however, are unique to 2011, not only because of the continuing impact of the economy but also because of major tax changes that are threatening for 2013, which is just a little more than a year away.

Long- and short-term gains

Long-term stock gains and qualified cash dividends continue to be taxed at the favorable maximum rate of 15 percent in 2011 and again in 2012. For lower-income investors in the 10 and 15 percent income tax brackets, a zero rate applies to stock gains and dividend income. Long-term capital gains rates apply to stock (and other investments) held for more than one year. Qualified dividend rates apply for stock held more than 60 days of a prescribed period around the dividend’s record date. Short-term gains are taxed at ordinary income rates and apply to stock held for one year or less.

If your stock has declined in value, it may make sense to sell it and recognize the loss. Capital losses have to be netted against capital gains, but net capital losses can be deducted dollar-for-dollar against ordinary income, up to $3,000 a year ($1,500 for married individuals filing separately). Excess capital losses above $3,000 are carried over to the following year and can be deducted against another $3,000 of ordinary income (after netting with any capital gains in the succeeding year).

Wash sale rules

If you expect the market to improve, you may want to hold on to your stock, even if it has dropped in value. It may be tempting to sell the stock, to recognize the loss, and then repurchase the same stock;however, the tax code under its so-called wash sale rules will not let you take the loss if you purchase identical stock within 30 days before or after you sell your shares. Another option is to sell your shares, wait 31 days, and then repurchase the stock.

Timing

Stock traded in an over-the-counter market or on a regulated national securities exchange is generally treated as sold on the date the taxpayer enters into a binding contract to sell the stock. This is the trade date, in contrast to the settlement date, when deliveries of the stock certificate and payment are made (generally the fifth business day after the trade date). The trade date is also the end of the selling taxpayer’s holding period for purposes of determining long- or short-term gain.

For short sales, however, the IRS insists on following a rule with a slight twist.  If the stock price falls and a gain will result, the gain is realized on the trade date, when the seller directs his or her broker to purchase shares. On the other hand, if the price rises and a loss will result, the loss is not realized until the stock is delivered on the settlement date.

In either case, remember that for 2011, December 31 falls on a Saturday, making December 30, 2011 the last day on which the public stock exchanges are open.

Long-term holding period

This year, year-end tax selling strategies should also be coordinated with year-end tax buying. In addition to the traditional attention given to the wash-sale rules on the repurchase of securities, investors should be aware that the rates on long-term capital gains quite possibility will be going up dramatically after 2012, when the Bush-era tax rates end.  In default of Congressional action, the maximum rate on net long-term capital gains will rise from 15 percent to 20 percent.  Since long-term gain is available only on assets held for more than one year, investors should be aware that the gain on stock and other capital assets purchased after 2011 quite likely will be subject to a higher tax rate. Year-end 2011 should therefore present an opportunity to get your long-term investment strategies in order so that, if forced to sell at year-end 2012 before a 2013 rate increase, you will be able to take advantage of the lower long-term rates.

If you would like further to refine your year-end investment strategies, please do not hesitate to contact this office at (908) 725-4414.

Investment-related issues from fluctuating markets

With the stock market fluctuating up and down (but especially down), some investors may decide to cash out investments that they initially planned to hold.  They may have taxable gains or losses they did not expect to realize.  Other investors may look to diversifying their portfolios further, moving a more significant portion into Treasury bills, CDs and other “cash-like” instruments, or even into gold and other precious metals. Here are reminders about some of the tax issues involved in these decisions.

Capital Assets and Dividends

Capital assets. Most items of property are capital assets, unless they are inventory or are used in a trade or business. Stock and securities are capital assets. Gains and losses from a capital asset are short-term if the property is held for one year or less, with gains taxed at ordinary income rates and deductible losses (short- or long-term) limited to $3,000 annually. Long-term gains (from property held more than one year) are generally taxed at a 15 percent rate.

Stock and securities. For stock and securities traded on an established market, the holding period begins the day after the trade (purchase) date and ends on the trade (sale) date. The settlement date, which is a few days later, is not relevant to the holding period determination.

Precious metals. The maximum capital gains rate on collectibles is 28 percent, rather than 15 percent. Collectibles include gems, coins, and precious metals, such as gold, silver or platinum bullion. If the taxpayer’s regular tax rate is lower than the maximum capital gain rate, the regular tax rate applies. Collectibles gain includes gain from the sale of an interest in a partnership, S corp or trust from unrealized collectibles’ appreciation, but does not include investments in a non-passthrough entity like holding shares in a mining company operating as a C corporation. Since gold is considered investment property in whatever form held, however, capital loss from a sale of gold (if a loss can be imagined) would be deductible.

Dividends. If a dividend is declared before the stock is sold but paid after the sale, the payee or owner of record when the dividend was declared is taxable on the dividend. Dividends are qualified (and taxed at the lower 15 percent rate) if the stock is held for at least 61 days during the 121-day period that begins 60 days before the “ex-dividend” date (the first date on which the buyer is not entitled to the next dividend payment). Again, the holding period includes the day the stock is disposed of but does not include the purchase date.

Wash sale rules. Taxpayers cannot deduct losses from a wash sale. A wash sale is a sale of stock or securities preceded or followed by a purchase of identical stock or securities within 30 days of the sale. A purchase includes a purchase by the taxpayer’s IRA. Thus, taxpayers cannot cash in a loss while, in effect, retaining the investment. The holding period for a wash sale begins when the old stock or securities were acquired. The loss that is disallowed is added to the basis of the stock or securities purchased.

Interest Income

Treasury securities. T-bills are sold at a discount for terms up to one year. The difference between the discounted price and the face value received at maturity is interest. Most U.S. Treasury bonds or notes pay interest every six months. The interest is taxable when paid. Certain issues of U.S. Treasury bonds can be exchanged tax-free for other Treasury bonds.

Corporate bonds. If a taxpayer sells a corporate bond between payment dates, part of the price represents accrued interest and must be reported as interest.

Certificates of deposit.  For short-term CDs (one year or less), interest may be payable in one payment at maturity. Interest is generally taxable when paid or when not subject to a substantial penalty. If interest can only be withdrawn by paying a penalty, the interest may not be taxable as it accrues. A taxpayer that decides to cash out the CD must report the full amount of interest paid, but the penalty is separately deductible and can be deducted in full even if it exceeds the interest.

Savings bonds. A cash-basis taxpayer does not report the interest (or the increase in redemption price) until the proceeds are received, the bond is disposed of, or the bond matures. However, a cash-basis taxpayer can elect to report the increase in redemption price each year as current income.

Switching investments.  An exchange of mutual funds within the same family is still taxable — a sale of one fund and a purchase of another. However, investments held in a tax-free account, such as a 401(k) plans or an IRA, can be switched tax-free, unless the owner takes a distribution.

Please contact our office if you have any questions about the tax ramifications of current investment strategies aimed toward responding to changing market trends.